How to change the optics while embracing independent uniqueness through employee dress codes in the independent hotel space.
Everywhere you look, we are bombarded by help wanted signs, invitations to job fairs and promises of guaranteed walk-in interviews. Among human resources professionals, we are often left discussing what, if any, new and inventive ways of sourcing is working among our peers, while at the same time calculating if we can somehow leverage those efforts to our own benefit.
Countless articles about how to best market lucrative bonus plans and competitive benefit packages as a means to combat the lack of job-seeking talent pool are all just a click away. But what happens when after all of our efforts, we source a great candidate who has everything we are looking for on paper and they have a great pre-screen interview, only to find when they show up for the face-to-face meeting, they don’t quite fit the traditional “look” that many of our operational division colleagues hope for?
Semi-controversial statement, right? Over the last decade, we have thankfully begun to move away from many of the stereotypes that have plagued our workplaces for so long. Previously held gender-role misconceptions—like that all sales and catering positions should be held by only by women, or that men exclusively belong in decision-making roles—are quickly dissipating now that more qualified people across the board are ascending to key leadership and decision-making positions.
Let’s not forget just five to 10 years ago when the scary belief that our multi-generational workforces would simply implode based on ageism biases. We heard the belief that all millennials are lazy, unwilling to work and just in it for themselves, and they would have to work alongside Gen Xers who are said to be out of touch, anti-establishment and not tech-savvy enough to understand the younger workforce or their thought patterns. Let’s not forget the Baby Boomers, who are still in the workplace, that were stereotyped they wouldn’t understand either group. These false beliefs that are simply based on someone’s birth year never did pan out in the apocalyptic manner many experts thought they would, and they are yet another example of unfounded bias.
However, there is another stigma that continues to permeate subconsciously throughout our workforce. It’s the belief that somehow a visible tattoo, piercing or less-than-typically-professional business attire negatively affects the overall service experience, or even the quality of the meal you receive when in a hotel or restaurant.
Allow me to be clear: In my own daily role you will find me in everything from a full business suit to a sport coat, button-down shirt and jeans. Even the casual Fridays in our corporate office consist of an even more relaxed dress code. I do not have tattoos or piercings, but the point illustrated shows that even as an executive, my dress code is often situational to my surroundings and those around me. It does nothing to affect the ability to successfully execute my job or the deliverables that come from it.
Our own thoughts of what is acceptable business attire is always continuing to evolve. Throughout the last four decades, for example, men have gone through double-breasted and leisure suits in the 70s and 80s, three-button pinstripes in the 90s and the iconic black mock turtleneck phase—because we all wanted to be like the tech geniuses in the early 2000s. Nowadays we find even the most traditional of professionals such as doctors, nurses, lawyers and C-suite executives embracing fully manicured beards, man buns, tattooed arms and the funkiest of sock designs paired with uniquely colored shoes and ankle-cut boots. Gone are the days of solid black and navy suits with single-color socks and wingtips.
When you look at the generational evolution of professional dress code, no one has experienced more creative freedom over the last 25 years than our female associates. From the outdated and role-limiting aprons and bonnets to suit sets with shoulder pads big enough for a professional football player to wear on Sundays to the modern-day reality of now being fashion trendsetters in the office.
A recent survey conducted by an international firm in England found that out of the nearly 72% of employed hospitality professionals survey indicated they had a tattoo, and just shy of 80% of them were female. Names of children, deceased parents, loved ones, music lyrics—and yes, just like their male colleagues—bad spring break choices were all indicated as reasons for getting permanent ink done.
One of the most common feelings that is voiced among corporate executives right now when the conversation of adjusting company dress codes comes up, is that with many areas around the country boasting below 2% unemployment figures, there is a belief that this is being talked about more now because of the difficulties of the market and not for fundamental reasons of change. Besides, to some decision makers, there must be a reason that with so many opportunities out there they still can’t not find a job, correct?
As independent hoteliers, we often have the ability to present our stories and experiences in a non-structured and at times, unconventional manner. According to a recent ManpowerGroup survey, 46% percent of U.S. employers indicating they are struggling to find job applicants with the skills needed for the job, but what rule states that amazing experiences cannot come from someone who appears less traditional? Especially when they buck the trend above and bring skill, passion and excitement to the team.
While even I would agree that there are limits to this theory in the workplace, inclusive of excessive piercings, massive earlobe spacers and facial or vulgar tattoos, we are at a time where we must look at our policies not because of the current labor market conditions, but because of cultural shifts.
The more rigid corporate uniforms work for some locations, but a dress code that calls for a consistent look, while still giving freedom for self-expression, will not appear cookie cutter. Let’s continue to embrace the personalized and experiential exchanges we have as independent hoteliers and look to remove some of the branded formality out of our interactions, and continue to employ the best storytellers out there whenever they present themselves!
Brandon M. Springer-McConnell is a Vice President for IDM Hospitality Group. His experience with both branded and independent properties has afforded a unique perspective of the operational challenges faced on a daily basis to an array of hospitality business models. His expertise includes strategic career development and succession planning for leaders, organizational structure and development, government affairs and hospitality law.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.