Dealing with scruffy dressers

Valerie Morton offers advice on encouraging unsuitably dressed staff to scrub up

Q: One of my senior management team is a scruffy dresser, and I think this is undermining their credibility with staff. What should I do?

A: First, what is your definition of 'scruffy?' Perhaps you are a snazzy dresser. Is the person really scruffy, or do they simply not meet your high standards? If the standard of dress is verging on dirty or unpleasant, then you have clear cause for concern.

If it is simply that they don't wear a tie or their shoes have not been cleaned, it may be that you are expecting inappropriate standards. Do you have any evidence that there is a credibility issue, for example?

Does this person 'scrub up well' when they know they need to - if they are visiting a corporate client or the local MP, perhaps? Maybe they do not feel they need to make the same effort when they are sitting behind their desk all day.

I am a great believer in looking at what may be behind an issue such as this. Has the person suffered a marriage break-up recently that might be affecting their domestic life? If they are caring for an elderly or sick relative, they might simply be short of time. Do a little research first so you know what approach to take.

If you have analysed the situation and still feel there is a problem, you might want to address the issue one-to-one. Bear in mind that if you take such a direct approach you might also get a direct reply - and not the one you want.

Flattery can work wonders, so make appropriate positive comments when they have made an effort. They might get the message if they hear colleagues receiving recognition for their attire.

You could also put in place a system whereby, before every meeting, there is a discussion about objectives that includes a section on the impressions you make on people. That might include being on time, whether the posh biscuits and best china are brought out and, of course, the dress code. If there is some home issue at the root of the problem, offering support might help - the introduction of flexible working, for example.

Finally, it is tempting to use humour as a tactic in delicate situations, but it can so easily backfire that it is best used with extreme caution.

Valerie Morton, is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant

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