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. 🙂