Are you headed for the beach or the office?

Today was one of those work days. The ones that make me question my relevance to today’s employees. It was the kind of day that reminded that the volumes written about multiple generations in the workplace should be required reading for managers.

Case in point: I am the senior HR person at work. That gives me the responsibility for setting policy. Well, truthfully, I get to recommend policy based on trends, laws, etc. to my fellow senior leaders. Once we agree to set a policy, I get the happy (or in this case unhappy) job of making sure it gets written and communicated.

So, what does policy writing and implementation have to do with multiple generations?

A little background for context.  I started working in 1969 as a medical secretary, working 40+ hours a week and raking it in at $80 a week. I spent several years as a legal secretary at Rochester’s most prestigious law firm. The secretaries, all female, were addressed by first name. The attorneys, who numbered about eighty, were all men, except for two female associates. The attorneys were addressed by surname. We adhered to a strict and formal dress code. We had important, wealthy clients. We made sure our shoes and purses matched. Sometime in the early seventies, we were allowed to wear “pant suits.” They were lovely polyester numbers, and if you lived through the seventies you remember what I’m talking about. And, the slacks and jacket had to match. We were required to wear our jackets when we were away from our desk, escorting clients, getting coffee and taking dictation. Can you just imagine a young Gen Y woman doing any of that?

Thank goodness times changed. So did work dress codes. Over the next two decades, workplace fashion changed with the quality movement, the feminist movement, the start-ups and, of course, the generations.  I’m pretty certain that the technology boom and people like Bill Gates are responsible for the popular white-collar dress code that has become known as “business casual.” The nineties saw a big movement to business casual dress, even for higher-level positions.

Since I was experiencing hourly hot flashes during these years, I was happy that blazers and suits were replaced by slacks and blouses or sweaters. Professional and business journals touted the increase in worker productivity, a direct result of dressing more casually. We were business casual comfortable but still maintained a professional look.

Somewhere during the last decade, business casual changed. It’s closer to what I would call picnic casual or beach casual or going bowling casual or going to the club casual. Which brings me to today’s work day (finally).

Back from the Memorial Day holiday, I guess folks are ready for summer. In fact, in my work area (the executive offices), many looked like they’re getting ready to go on a picnic or to the beach. Exaggeration? Maybe. I couldn’t believe what (mostly the women) were wearing! Fitted capris, tank tops and flip-flops (some with bling). I felt like a fuddy duddy when I talked with my Director and managers to get their impressions. They’ve probably never even heard the term “fuddy duddy.” I guess they agreed, but they seemed puzzled that I was so appalled. Harrumph!  It’s bad enough I can’t put two spaces after a sentence anymore and now they want me to let them wear beach clothes? I think not. Off with their heads!

I’m a boomer who heard the message loud and clear as I worked to advance my career: “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Translation: be as professionally dressed as you possibly can, BE the ball, fake it till you make it, etc. These days there are many more Gen X and Gen Y folks around me. They’re not buying any of it, especially the Gen Y people (affectionately dubbed “millennials”).

Being the seasoned and wise HR boomer person that I am, I whipped up some fancy language to stop the insanity. Ok, I’m exaggerating and being silly. Alone in my office, I stared at the words on the page and thought about the situation. It was then that I reminded myself that the generation to which we are born affects our paradigms. I realized that maybe the appearance of different workers is a clue to how different we are. And, isn’t that a good thing for the workplace all you diversity lovers?  Gen X and Gen Y people are our future. They are smart and ambitious. They want to learn and they aren’t afraid to ask for what they want. They grew up in a different time, especially those from the Y generation. Good for them. They keep us boomers on our toes. And we share — they teach me and I teach them. They have new information and I have experience. A good combination and good for business.

Yes, boomers, we may have the wisdom, but Gen X and Y have the future. It’s just too bad they don’t know how to dress for success. 🙂

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9 Responses to Are you headed for the beach or the office?

  1. carlorustico says:

    Hmm . . . while I agree with your observations, I can’t do the same with your conclusions.

    • It’s called hope I guess. They are the future.

      • carlorustico says:

        Yes, and that scares the hell out of me.

        Many of our young people are falling far behind their brethren from around the world — many of whom are going to school and working here in the USofA.

        And how are these other kids succeeding? With the very work ethic that our Xs and Ys have decided is no longer relevant.

  2. That’s what I mean about feeling irrelevant. Good thing I’m not far from the rocking chair.

  3. roz says:

    OMG thank goodness I chose a profession where clothes are not only dictated but cleaned and pressed for me.

  4. Alexis says:

    I’ve been told my whole life that I needed to dress for success. Flip flops and capris were never included in the success wardrobe! If I wore clip flops and capris, I’d fall on my face because of my horrible balance. Maybe I should do that just once at ABVI to show those people who wear flip flops that they are a safety risk. LOL I’m joking of course. I’d never do something like that, but it sure would make people take notice.

    And in terms of spaces after sentences…. I still insert 2 spaces after a period. Someone told me once that there is only one space between sentences, but old habits die hard!

  5. Dina says:

    I was just talking about this with one of my coworkers as we watched woman (mostly) walk through the B&L cafeteria. I do agree that we (and I am right on the cusp between Gen X and Y – 1977) do not dress anywhere close to how we used to in the workplace. Since starting a position in 2000 I have never once worn a suit. Just starting a new position I am very aware of how I am dressing for my position. I am not an executive but I would consider myself well beyond “entry level”. I have to say though – looking through B&L yesterday most of the woman in “picnic shriek” (lol) were in their late 40’s – 60’s in age. The 20 somethings we saw were all in business casual and all the men were in shirts and dress pants. There was one table in particular of a group of ladies playing cards at their table – all between 45-65 years of age I would guess.. and they all had on capris, flip flops and what I would consider a t-shirt. So I definitely do not believe that our new generations are not dressing for success. Certain professions (customer service phone reps, warehouse, IT, and maintenance) will always dress much more casual than the rest.. but from what I just saw this week of the new crop of interns and the B&L/Xerox folks during lunch hour – It’s not our generation to worry about just yet.

  6. Valerie Steverson says:

    If you are truly dressing for your next position, I’d say you should go in with shorts! What gets me are those people who dress like they are out for the evening…or ladies of the evening. Really…leave something to the imagination!

    I do believe if you were back at the law firm, you would still see people dressed pretty formal.

    All that said, I am of the school that if people are more comfortable at work, they will be more productive.

    Finally, hey, let’s leave those card players alone!

  7. Ginny says:

    Ray came home from work today said one of the girls (48ish) came into work with a pair of shorts (knee length), a tank top and flip flops. He commented: the outfit was not appropriate work attire, where did she think she was and she looked ridiculous. Most of the engineers there wear slacks and a dress shirt, no tie.

    This girl also brings her personal blackberry and a cross word puzzle into meetings, when asked to contribute to the meeting she says “ha, what?” Unfortunately this behaviour is allowed and not questioned.

    I remembered this blog and read it to him.

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