Thursday, May 28, 2009

Should Every Day Be Dress Down #3

When Paine conceived The Delahaye Group 10 years ago, she wanted to include the good features of all the places she'd worked. One of these was the dress code -- or more precisely, the lack of one. She doesn't need a dress-down Friday. At Delahaye, it's dress-down all year long.

Delahaye is a reputation-measuring company. "We provide quantitative and qualitative research around corporate reputations. We measure the effects of what PR agencies do. The short version is that we're image consultants."

Paine's policy, in an overnight bag: "We wear whatever we can be most productive in. For some, that's a dress or suit, and for others it might he shorts and a T-shirt."

Paine expects her staffers to use their judgment, and, she says, they do. "When we know there's a client coming in, it's dress-up day." But there isn't a lot of drop-in trade at Delahaye. "We usually know when a client is coming."

So far, no one has taken advantage of Paine's laissez-faire policy. She credits employees' common sense. "It's downtown Portsmouth -- nobody is going to show up in a bikini. But we're all grown-ups here. If someone was inappropriately dressed for a business meeting off-site, I might say something. But it hasn't happened."

Delahaye now has 52 staffers in-house. Most opt for comfort, and outfits range from business casual to jeans and sweats. "Five or six still dress up, and they're all women. The guys are more casual," she says.

Banks and other financial institutions are Delahaye's polar opposite. Maureen Donovan, human resources director for Bank of NH, Manchester, says the company has a dress code, and it's dressier than most.

"We still prefer the more formal business attire," Donovan says. This means skirt suits for women, or possibly an upscale pantsuit. Men must wear ties and jackets when in the public eye; in the privacy of their offices, they can ditch the jacket, but the tie stays.

There is no regular "dress-down Friday." Staff members may dress in casual clothes occasionally, for special promotions or holidays. But formal is normal for the 85 employees in the bank's main Manchester office.

Donovan adds, though, that even bank attire has changed with the times. "It hasn't changed dramatically, but what's acceptable has loosened up a little."

For example, women don't have to wear suits all the time. What is Donovan wearing? She practices what she preaches.

"Today I'm in a dressy dress, with a jacket and scarf."

Other companies also prefer the older formal style of dress. Steve Griffin, vice-president of Isaacson Steel in Berlin, says his company opts for traditional business attire four days a week. "The account and administrative departments meet with the public every day. It's expected."

He and the other male staffers wear coats and ties; for the women, skirts are in order.

But Isaacson's staff can romp through a casual day every Friday. It's corporate casual, which means no jeans. "I get to take the tie off," Griffin says. "It's not as stuffy, but it's not grubby, either."

"Casual Friday" came into being in June 1995. "The president and I got tired of wearing ties. There was a `stuffiness cloud' over our heads."

Isaacson's professionals try to schedule client meetings Monday through Thursday, and save Friday for a catch-up day. It's Thursday afternoon, and Griffin is wearing a white shirt, blue slacks and a blue "teardrop" tie. "There's a sport coat on my coat rack."

Will "business casual" replace traditional business dress? Griffin enjoys it, but he hopes not. "The `uniform' of the '70s went too far. Everybody looked like a banker. But if you dress too casually, your mind-set will be too casual toward your work. For some reason, I have to have a coat and tie on most of the time. It's something between my ears, I guess."

But PSNN's Murray believes business casual represents a "loosening up of society, of how we communicate. A shirt and tie doesn't necessarily demonstrate your expertise and abilities. But an appropriate level of dress is a reflection of the company in the eyes of the customer."

Whatever your sartorial style, there's a company out there for you. And if it's an unstructured dress policy, like Paine's, there's an unexpected side benefit. "You can tell when people come to the last of their clean laundry," Paine says. "The fancier clothes are all they have left."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Should Every Day Be Dress Down #2

Forbidden footwear includes sandals, flip flops, clogs, athletic shoes of any kind, work boots or hiking boots. Casual walking shoes and flat shoes/loafers are acceptable.

What is he wearing on a September Monday? "Oxford comfort shoes, navy blue slacks, a striped Oxford shirt" and no tie.

"Casual dress days" are becoming quite prevalent around the Granite State, according to a recent survey by the NH affiliate of the National Human Resources Association. Of the companies responding to the survey (mostly manufacturing/distribution firms) 83 percent have designated casual days, although only about one-third have a written policy. Just over 80 percent permitted denim jeans at work, and all permitted open-toed shoes in areas where safety is not a concern.

Business casual is also the year-round policy at Public Service of New Hampshire, according to Martin Murray, a spokesman from the Manchester headquarters. PSNH follows the dress code of its Connecticut parent company, Northeast Utilities.

PSNH formerly had a "casual Friday" and dressed up the rest of the week. One summer the company tried the casual mode day-by-day. After Labor Day, Murray says, a corporate decision was made to keep "casual" 12 months a year.

But the policy isn't as detailed as Associated Grocers'. "The employee is asked to use his/her best judgment to select appropriate attire for his or her job," Murray says. However, "it's strongly suggested that jeans, shorts, T-shirts and sneakers are not appropriate. But the onus is on the employee."

Murray cites two of those advantages. First, casual business dress is less expensive than traditional office wear. "I know I kept one dry cleaner in business by myself. Now my dry cleaning bill has gone down."

And people have told him they're more comfortable in the casual attire, and this makes it easier for them to do their jobs.

What is Murray wearing as he talks to a visitor? "I have on a golf shirt and pants -- I think they're Dockers, but I can't see the label. They're not khakis, because they're black. And my comfortable dress shoes are interesting --they're those lace-up things from Timberland. They're like a short boot."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Should Every Day Be Dress Down #1

The Do's and Dont's of business fashion are changing.

Robert Molloy was very clear in the first edition of his bestseller "Dress for Success." Never wear brown. Women should wear suits, not dresses, and certainly not pants. Forget dangling earrings, colored nail polish and colored nylons. Men with an eye for the fast track should only wear blue, light gray or charcoal gray suits. No one ever heard of corporate casual.

Now the dress debate is not suit versus sports coat, but how far down is "dress down"?

When Katharine Delahaye Paine, owner of The Delahaye Group, Portsmouth, worked in California's Silicon Valley, she found "casual dress" took on a new meaning. "My ax-husband was actually asked to wear ties less often. It's much less formal than the East Coast."

But the East is catching up. When Molloy wrote his first primer in the 1970s, many professionals scrambled to acquire the "correct" office look for the upward climb. But the robot look eventually lost its charm, and now '90s companies are striving to find a middle ground between comfort and the image they hope to present.

Norm Turcotte, CEO of Associated Grocers, Manchester, chuckles a bit when asked about his company's experience with "dress down" Fridays. "The results were, by and large, pretty good ... with some notable exceptions" because some employees' definitions of dress down were "vastly different" than others.

Rather than scrap the whole dress down idea, however, an employee committee recommended a policy of "business casual" all year round --and the dress down days were dropped.

AG's 150 office workers now have a detailed five-page dress code to guide them as they shop for work attire. On the "do" list: polo shirts, Oxford shirts, sweaters/cardigans, blazers/sport coats, casual pants such as Dockers, business skirts no shorter than four inches above the knee, and tailored dress shorts for women, worn with tights or nylons. Ties are optional.

On the "don't" list: T-shirts, flannel shirts, sweatshirts and tank tops unless covered. Stirrup pants and leggings are out, and shorts for men are verboten. Denim of any sort, top or bottom, has been relegated to home and garden to Turcotte's dismay, who laments that he can't wear his favorite Ralph Lauren denim shirt to the office.

The "denim issue" apparently generated heated discussion among the committee members. But, while he wishes he could work in his favorite shirt, Turcotte says the committee pondered the wide variety of denim clothing today -- from pricey, tailored designer jeans to someone's favorite well-worn holey relics from college -- and decided to nix the whole fabric. And he agrees.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Left Brain, Right Brain. Game Review

A better title, "Left Handed, Right Handed", this unusual title asks you to compare the fine motor abilities of your left and right hands, by doing identical tasks with both, and then comparing the scores. To put it another way, it measures your ambidexterity. To play the game, you turn the Nintendo DS on its side, book style, to test your ambidexterity -- in other words, the fine motor skills that you have in your right hand vs. your left hand. Note that this isn't a game per se. Like Brain Age, it is more of a collection of fine motor drills -- some fun and some more like work.

There are 15 mini-games that start with asking you to touch a moving box, first with one hand, and then the other (you turn the DS 180 degrees). After you do the same task with both hands, the computer tells you your percent correct on both sides of your body.

The idea is that you can work to exercise your least dominant hand in order to become stronger. Other activities ask you to connect dots, flick moving asteroids from hitting the Earth, play a game of whack-a-mole, and move a dot through a maze. This latter activity replays your prior performance, and challenges to you beat yourself. Or, you can race against another player using the DS wireless play mode. So does it work? If nothing else, it is an interesting example of creative design, measurement and assessment, using the DS pen based interface. Note that reading is required. Records for up to four people can be saved on the cartridge. Created by Japan Art Media for Majesco.

Link to buy Left Brain, Right Brain Game