Last week I attended an Advisory Committee meeting of a program that helps transition high school students to college. It's a great program with excellent focus and results. The 14 members in attendance were overwhelmingly Baby Boomers and Generation Jones, many with distinguished careers in the public sector and education. Two down from me sat an impeccably dressed suit with spit shined shoes, wellgroomed silver hairand large gold collegiate rings on manicured fingers. He appeared successful according to the standards of his generation as a senior Baby Boomer.
The agenda flowed and it came time for him to speak. He reported on the annual business plan competition and how this year's students didn't seem as sharp as other years. This was very concerning and we all sat on the edge of ourseats waiting for details of the fall out.
The students seemed bright prior to the presentations he reported, but something just wasn't right that evening. One had on pants that hung kind of low and sneakers. Another had hair like a girl. A girl had an earring on her face. They lacked professionalism and they weren't "sharp". Next year we would have to do something about it, these kids would never make it in the real world.
As he spoke I observed how others were taking in his comments. Some nodded their heads in agreement, some sat like stone statues just looking at him and those few Gen Y and Gen X members that were there had abnormally big eyes. As a Joneser who admittedly tries hard to dress in pajamas disguised as business casual I was in the middle. I tuned out for a moment after, "When I was 7 my mother told me...." then I came back.
When the suit was finished airing his grievances I asked, "How was the content of the presentations they gave?" It turns out that the kid with the baggys won, though it was a tough decision. I continued on. "If you would have closed your eyes and just listened would your opinion be any different?" That apparently was not the point.
I lodged in a few thoughtful and hopefully respectful sentences about the War for Talentand how the best present could come in a brown paper bag and costume jewelry could be wrapped in gold gilded paper with ribbons and bows. I think my rebellious nature came through.
Shouldn't it be all aboutperformance?
With the exception of good personal hygiene and attire that would present potential safety concerns in certain environments, why does it matter?
Gartner Dataquest reported in 2008 that 25% of workers telecommuted in 2007, and in their recent 2009 projections, they estimate that number to hit 27.5%. Companies like Booz Allen Hamilton, eBay, Gartner, Goldman Sachs, Principal Financial Group, S.C. Johnson & Son, Yahoo, and Qualcomm, continue to lead the pack with flexible work and telecommuting benefits.
I'll beta good number of them work out of flannels and do just as good of a job as when they are all decked out.
At the end of the discussion I offered to go into the classroom to talk about employer expectations. But I won't be speaking abouthow self-expression can be achieved by wearing a slightly bold tie or colorful scarf. I'll be talking about generational differences, asking about the dress code prior to the interview, understanding business dress code norms and choosing a career and employerthat meet lifestyle preferences - the things kids don't learn in school.
I'll continue to monitor workplace vogue and help students and new professionals understand it. When it is no longer a topic for discussion I'll have my Gen Jones self in a flannel shirt, jeans and sneakers working right alongside them. Oh, and I'm supporting the City of Brooksville, FL in their common sense approach to the employee dress code of deodorant and underwear required. Go Brooksville!