A reader writes:
I work at a smallish (600 students, 40 or so full-time employees) private for-profit educational institution. Our classes are generally M-Tu-Th, but potential students (customers!) and other members of the community are on campus all day every day. Culture and policy here is that it’s OK to wear jeans on Fridays. Recently, some staff and faculty (including the president) have started dressing down on Wednesdays as well.
One of my colleagues, who works with potential new students and current students throughout the day five days per week, has taken to wearing jeans and an untucked t-shirt on Wednesdays. It’s important to me to dress professionally – ties or sweaters on class days, oxford-style shirts W and F – and I feel like my colleague’s dress is unprofessional, presents a poor image to new students and the community, and, in a small but real way, makes it harder for us to pursue our mission of helping students move from paycheck-to-paycheck living to a career.
I’m debating whether it would be best to ignore it, speak to my colleague directly, or speak to my manager or hers. I’d love your thoughts.
You’re both peers, right? I’d let it go.
If her manager has a problem with it, she’ll address with your coworker. It sounds like she probably doesn’t object, and so therefore it’s not really appropriate for you to butt in.
Now, if you weren’t peers and she were under you in the hierarchy, it wouldn’t be totally inappropriate to discreetly mention to her manager that you think she could use some pointers on what level of professional dress is expected. Or if this person saw you as a mentor, it could be appropriate to mention it directly to her, in a kind way. But neither of these sounds like the case here.
Rather, it sounds like the culture there is one where what she’s wearing is actually okay. You don’t need to like that or dress that way yourself, but she’s doing something that’s allowed.
Look at this another way: How would you take it if your colleague came to you and said, “I know that we’re not required to be here until 9:00, but I like to come in at 7:00 and really think that you should do the same.” You’d probably prefer she focus on herself and let you manage your own behavior, right? Same thing here.
This isn’t to say that you should never approach a coworker with suggestions directly; there are plenty of times where that’s appropriate and even necessary. But this one doesn’t rise to that level.