SMOKE: Grooming In The Workplace
Originally published: 6 December 2005
I read a story yesterday from Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which was published on News.com.au, about a serious personnel gaffe made by Sydney's Commonwealth Bank last week.
The bank was forced to apologise to its staff on Monday for distributing a booklet called The Commonwealth Bank Grooming Handbook, which although well-meaning was also perhaps a wee bit over the top.
In it staff members were advised to wear flesh-coloured underwear, trim their nose hair and to not wear shiny stockings as they make legs look fat. They were also advised not to skimp when purchasing shoes, and that more than two rings per hand was unacceptable.
Here are some of the "guidelines" as layed out in the handbook:
Flesh-coloured, smooth finish t-shirt bras will give you the best, most discreet look.
Consider having unruly brows regularly waxed or plucked.
Wash your hair at least every three days and use a conditioner.
Your hands do get noticed, moisturise your hands regularly.
Aftershave lotions contain alcohol and can produce broken capillaries on your face (small red veins). Use eau de colognes on your body instead.
If your hair is thinning, try cutting it closer to the head.
If your hair is light in colour, grey or curly, a shine product can add lustre and help it to look healthy.
Trim your nose and ear hairs.
Don't skimp when purchasing shoes. You spend most of your life in them.
Additional advice was for women to avoid shiny stockings as "they make your legs look larger", and that their earrings should be no larger than a 10c piece.
Men were told to buy 10 pairs of matching socks that reach mid-calf and those with foot odour problems should "try using specialist foot powders".
Naturally employees and unions and politicians became involved and now the bank has apologised and issued hundreds of disclaimers along the lines of the fact that the booklet was only intended as a guideline and was not intended to offend anybody.
The booklet was put together by a company called Corporate Intelligence. Figures, really.
Silly as those recommendations are, I have no problem with such a booklet in theory.
People are disgusting. Sorry, but there you have it. Not everyone, obviously - there are loads of people who take pride in their appearance and who don't need to be told how to present themselves in the workplace.
But some of the Pigs I've worked with before have been incredibly badly groomed and once you sign an contract of employment you have an obligation to uphold that company's corporate image.
If their image is New Age Ripped Jeans - so be it. Work those tongue studs, baby.
But if it's a large commercial bank you have no right to come in to work with sloppy hair, garish jewelery and scuffed, old shoes - particularly if your position involves dealing with members of the public or other corporate clients.
I see smelly, greasy people everywhere. It makes me sick. Having a shit job is no excuse to look like shit or not to take a bath or apply some deodorant, yet time and again I see sloppy, lazy people in "customer service" positions who obviously haven't even looked in the mirror that morning.
If I were them I wouldn't either, mind you - a mirror is a stern reminder of who you are.
I don't agree with flesh-coloured knickers on principle and I don't believe moisturiser maketh the man, but I am offended by people who don't at least make an effort to look good in the workplace.
Where we run into murky waters is over the definition of "well-groomed". A face with 13 piercings, for example, could be considered by some to be disrespectful when belonging to the face of your bank manager, but to your bank manager it's what gives them their identity.
Just because you don't like piercings and wouldn't allow your daughter to get any does it mean you have a right to demand that someone else takes them off?
What about traditional tattoos, though? Face markings or etchings which reach back thousands of years into tradition? If a Maori, for example - to whom tattooing is an ancient and very acceptable art - wanted to work in a bank with facial tattoos, who is anyone to tell him he can't?
And what about those chicks somewhere in northern Africa with the distended earlobes, stretched and pulled long by the weight of many heavy earrings? Someone's worn those her whole life and to her it represents ultimate beauty and grooming - is she subject to western standards when she tries to get a job in South Africa?
Who determines what grooming is? One man's rubbish is another man's art, is it not?
I guess the answer lies in what the corporate image of a particular company is and the subsequent instructions to personnel managers on the sort of grooming they expect from potential employees.
If Tattoo Boy and Piercing Girl walk in you can politely decline their application based on the criteria your company has layed out - either honestly or more circumspectly.
When prospective employees sign a contract of employment the grooming guides for that company should be part of it - thereafter there should be no problems.
That entire suggestion is as blatant a case of prejudice as any you are likely to encounter, because a direct judgement is being made on someone because of the way they look.
What else are you to do, though? A bank with employees covered in tattoos and piercings and dreadlocks and odd facial hair is simply not going to do as well as one with neat, sparkling, polished, safe banking types.
Must a business be penalised for people's diversity of appearance, or do they have the right to make reasonable requests to their staff with regards their grooming and general presentation?
If I were hiring I would definitely discriminate based upon appearance if the position I was offering demanded a certain look. I'd be stupid not to.
The corporate image is the property of the employer, who has a right to demand that it is satisfied by his employees.
That's fine. What's not fine is recommending flesh-coloured undies and sensible brassieres.
All Smoked Out,