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Friday, September 14, 2007

Another HR Problem

Please help!

I am the HR Assistant for the HR Manager at my job. It is just the two of us in the department. She has reprimanded me on three different occasions regarding the clothing I wear to work. And each time I ask her specifically, what can I , or can't I wear. I need guidelines! And each time she added something different. But she of course follows it up with don't worry, your always dress professionally.

What's not fair is that she told me not to wear a specific sleeveless top, while about 10 other women in the office wear sleeveless. She told me mine was a little to far over the shoulder, therefore showing more skin. Sleeveless tops are sleeveless tops. Depending on your body type, they might fit differently. The top I wore was very professional and not too far over the shoulder. I let her know how I felt, and that I believed this was absurd because I have been trying really hard to go by her suggestions, but how am I supposed to feel when other women are wearing what I was told not too?

I even pointed this out, and she told me to be her helper and let her know when I see this type of clothing. She even told me to shop at Wal-Mart and go to a tailor to get the straps on my tops hemmed. Basically, I feel I am being treated unfairly. I am being singled out. This has created feelings of resentment. For the past month I have been scared about what I wear to work! I am nervous that at any moment she will call me in and criticize my clothes - again!

I dress very professionally in the workplace. This issue has been bothering me for quite some time, and I need some advice. I have documented all of our meetings, and our conversations. I have also noted names of the other women who wear the same thing I got in trouble for. What do I do? I don't feel comfortable speaking to her about this again.

When I give her my opinion, she just stares at me. I want to go to my GM and explain to him that this issue has created a negative environment for me and that I go home mad every day. My thoughts are on my clothing instead of my work. Do I go to my GM about this? Any other advice?

Thanks so much!

Unfortunately for you, you've come to the wrong person to complain about the unfairness of not being allowed to wear sleeveless shirts. But, since that's not really your question, we'll leave my fashion opinions here.

Your manager doesn't like you--or she believes you have more potential than you are living up to. It's quite possible that she feels threatened by you. Unfortunately, when you dislike someone it is very easy to pick out things and label them faults, when you would ignore the same thing in someone else. Likewise, when you feel threatened by someone, the way for mean people to deal with that is to try and destroy that person.

So, your options--deal with it or start looking for a new job. (Although I would find it difficult to not laugh at the idea of buying clothes at Walmart and then taking them to the tailor. It seems to defeat the purpose of going to Walmart in the first place.)

In my opinion, mentioning it to her again won't do any good. Neither will mentioning it to the General Manager. Ask yourself, how would he respond?

Response 1: Thanks for telling me. I think I'll go fire the HR manager.

Response 2: Why are you telling me this? I'm trying to run a business. Dress code is HR's problem.

Response 3: That's terrible. I'll talk to the HR manager right now. That will make your life a living Hell!

I'm guessing that you're hoping for Response 1. I'll give you my professional opinion that it's not likely to happen. A good GM will know if his HR manager is being irrational and he doesn't need you to tell him.

The only person you can control is you. Going home angry every day is only hurting you. It's not doing anything for your career and it's not hurting your boss. Because her complaints are unpredictable, you need to sit down and evaluate: Is this job worth the annoyance and frustration or not? If the answer is no, then dust off your resume and start job hunting. If the answer is yes, you'll have to deal with it.

And by dealing with it, I don't mean grit your teeth and take out your frustration on your friends and family. I mean, make a conscious decision that you are not going to let this bother you. When she criticizes your outfit, apologize politely and say whatever is true about it. "Dawn is currently wearing something very similar" or "This is the 6th time I've warn this outfit. What caught your eye about it this time?" Then forget she said anything.

If you don't let it bother you and you don't get steamed, it's possible that the bullying will stop. (And please understand, this type of behavior is bullying.) Work your hardest and you'll get noticed for your work.


liketothelark said...

If she has trouble letting go then I can recommend a couple of books.

One is "Leadership and Self Deception" from the Arbinger Institute, and the other "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz.

Either can be helpful in dealing with frustration and anger "caused" by other people.

apu said...

The next time the manager does this, could she also perhaps use it as an occasion to say, "you know, I am sort of confused really as to what is appropriate dress for this environment. I am sure there are other people out there who must be feeling the same way. Why don't we draw up a more clear dress code policy?" So, establish that she is not being defensive, AND not scared.

bozo said...

I once had a boss just like that. She hated me.

In the end, I quit for a better job: better boss, better company, better money.

Until I could swing that, though, I just started saying "ok" to whatever nit-picky thing she rode my ass about--and then going about my business as if she'd never said anything.

Worked fine for me: non-confrontational, yet not having to cramp my own style.

Ribeye of your Dreams said...

I try my hardest to not go home angry, which is hard when ya wait tables like I do. I hate all my managers, and most of my guests, and if I came home pissed off every day, I'd not still be in a relationship.
Our dress code sucks too, we're a sport's bar/restaurant, and we have to wear pastels.

Ribeye of your Dreams said...

To the writer of the letter. Try to not go off on your management about your problems, it'll only get you fired.

Mike Doughty said...

From an HR Manager's perspective, people that I hired to work for me were always told that they were going to be held to a higher standard than other employees. In my opinion (dated perhaps, but still valid, I believe), HR people have to be strive mightily not to give any appearance of impropriety, conflict of interest, violating any rules, etc. When it's a good part of your job to judge others, you and the people that work for you need to be above reproach. I would tell people coming into my organization that this was my expectation of them and then give them overnight to think about that before accepting the job. If there was ever any problem after that, I'd remind them of that conversation. It always worked for me, quaint as it may sound.

Wally Bock said...

The Evil One has given you good advice. So have others here about going home angry and all. I'm going to be the Devil's Advocate on this.

I've seen many supervisors try to tell subordinates to "dress professionally." The problem they have is that while they have a general picture in their head of what that means, it's very, very hard to put it into words.

You say that you always dress professionally. You also say that your boss is frequently telling you that you aren't dressed professionally. It is possible she's right?

Here's something I've asked coaching clients to do. Make a little research study of the successful members of your own sex in your company and industry. How do they dress? If you want to move up, you need to look like the people above you on the org chart.

You may be right and your boss may be picking on you unfairly. But if you're wrong, you could be behaving and dressing in a way that's not helping your career.

JKB said...

Evil is correct, your boss has it in for you. It is there in the first paragraph of your letter. You are reprimanded on a whim but then told you've nothing to worry about as you always dress professionally. When you get this dichotomy of treatment, they are harassing you. But trying to keep off balance by not giving you any thing to work with to make the problem go away. An HR manager should know that you either always dress professionally or your dress must be corrected but you can't have both at the same time. Take Evil's advice and look for another job.

When my organization turned against me, I started getting this kind of treatment. I felt like I was in la la land and it took a while to step back and see what they were doing. Be careful they don't involve you in something inappropriate and use it as an excuse to fire you. You can't cut corners when they are after you even though they give awards to others for those same actions.

Anne Bradshaw said...

I'm all for an easy life. Just comply, forgive, and move on. At least you'll still have a job :-)

The Engineer said...

Dress like her.

That was easy.
Is it possible that you were hired "for" your manager? Rather than "by" her? Seems odd to hire someone as your right hand and then target so much hostility. I agree with Evil. Ignore her. If she is going to "get" you, then at least force her out into the open. Don't let the passive aggressive tactic succeed.
You need a job, but never need the job you have.

Just another HR lady.... said...

Is it possible she is thinking that since you are in HR that you should be setting an example for others, therefore should be meeting a higher standard in terms of what you wear? (by the way, I would never wear a sleeveless top to work...sorry)

I do agree that going to the GM is not really an option, I highly doubt her/she is going to care about this issue, they have much bigger fish to fry honestly.

However...if this issue is being caused because there is no formal dress code policy (so she is changing her mind frequently about what is/isn't acceptable), why don't you suggest that perhaps it's time to develop a Dress Code policy and issue it to the company? (much as I hate added policies)

If she doesn't have time to work on a Dress Code policy, suggest that you could come up with a draft to help her out, and then she can review and issue. It helps her timewise, gives you some policy writing experience, and hopefully resolves the dress code issue with you and everyone else that isn't following her expectations.

Carmen Van Kerckhove said...

I think there's another possibility for why she may be singling you out. Are you bustier/curvier than your other colleagues?

It's absolutely absurd, but I do find that women who are bustier or curvier are subjected to different dress codes.

Take, for example, the way Southwest Airlines reprimanded two female customers and nearly kicked them off the flight because their outfits were supposedly too revealing. (See here and here.) Both were attractive, young women with not-small breasts. Coincidence? I think not.

Personally, I think people need to grow up and realize that women have breasts and legs - get over it. As long as they are dressed appropriately for the situation, it shouldn't matter.

But as a practical matter, I think that as women we should realize that there are often double standards for what seems like "decent" attire for a woman who is curvy vs one who is less so.

Evil HR Lady said...

Carmen--interesting insight. It's definitely a possibility.

Founder: Lea Setegn said...

I'm very busty, and every wardrobe choice I make for work centers on containing the "twins." My bras cost more than almost every other part of my outfits in order to get the best support and coverage, and I'm very, very careful about the camisoles I wear under sweaters and jackets so they cover me well.

A well-endowed woman in a sleeveless shirt, particularly a V-neck, might look more "bimbo" and less "professional" in other people's minds. It's about managing perceptions -- it's not fair, but that's life.

If this is the case for the letter writer, I recommend investing in excellent bras and wearing tops that show arms or bustline, but not both.

Sherry L. Read said...

Dear Evil HR Lady,
Hum... I was surprised that your response focused more on "it's the boss's problem", than on suggesting that the letter writer consider what part of this problem might be hers. HR often needs to hold itself to a higher standard. Perhaps (in a less than effective way) the manager is giving the letter writer useful advice. Maybe (again in an awkward fashion) the HR manager is passing along comments that she is getting from her peers or managers.
Wally's suggestion is great - what do the successful women in that company wear? To what extent does your boss emulate them? To what extent can you emulate them? If this is the biggest issue between this employee and her boss, deal with it and focus on the harder stuff!

Evil HR Lady said...


You are, of course, right. It could be the letter writer who is at fault, but since it isn't the boss writing in, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.

The thing that makes me think this is a manager problem is the lack of clear guidelines.

My actual best guess is that it's a mix of someone who dresses inappropriately for their body type and a manager that can't communicate well.

Anonymous said...

Oh my guess your boss is a jerk, more than likely a jerk to everyone else so you are not in the same boat. Since you are not in the same boat don’t waste your time talking to the manger the Evil H.R lady is right it is a complete waste of time. Talk to your co-workers instead. If they all have similar grievances than form a Union that gets managements attention because they have no say in it what so ever. When mangers as you described start to become recalcitrant there is no other way to deal with them.

So organize with your co workers and let managers that can’t hack it on a level playing field dust of their resume once you have organized.

Anonymous said...

Oh my guess your boss is a jerk, more than likely a jerk to everyone else, so you are not in the same boat. Since you are not in the same boat don’t waste your time talking to the manager. The Evil H.R lady is right; it is a complete waste of time. Talk to your co-workers instead. If they all have similar grievances then form a Union that gets managements attention, because they have no say in it what so ever. When managers as you described start to become recalcitrant there is no other way to deal with them.

So organize with your co workers and let managers that can’t hack it on a level playing field dust off their resume once you have organized.
Ooops had to correct some terrible grammatical errors. Sorry for the double post.