When to "be you" in the workplace

What do you do about tattoos and piercings when you’re looking to start a new career?

Q. I’m currently shifting careers toward a more traditional white-collar job after working at a very unconventional business (security at a dance club). During the course of working at my old position, I got several piercings and tattoos, which was perfectly acceptable for a club that caters to a very open-minded clientele. However, I’m very nervous that I won’t be taken seriously in my new button-up atmosphere.

How do I maintain my individuality while also recognizing that there’s a different standard in a suit and tie world?

A. Another wonderful question and one that many people have faced and successfully navigated. Although the workplace continues to evolve, becoming more flexible, the concept of “dressing the part,” is still important and very much expected by most employers and customers too.

I’m sure you’ve already discovered that you can often temporarily remove piercings and cover extreme tattoos up with the right clothing choices. I am wondering how you dealt with the piercings and tattoos during the interview. How you prepared for the interview will give you an idea of how to show up at work.

Perhaps thinking about this from the customer’s standpoint will help you sort out your feelings and create an action plan. Most of us expect people who prepare our food to wear clean clothes and hair styles that will keep their hair away from our sandwiches. We want our doctors to look like doctors, and our nurses to look like nurses. Your “look” in your previous job made a lot of sense, and a more conservative look in a more traditional white-collar environment makes sense, too. Being you is important, and being accepted and effective in the workplace is as well!

Good luck with the new job. Let me know how it goes!

Q. Some of the people in my office sit around the lunch table discussing politics. I know politics is one of those topics like religion that is supposed to be off limits, but they seem to be having a good time. Is this OK or should I say something to them because others in the office could potentially be offended?

A. Politics, like so many things we’re not supposed to talk about at work, is almost impossible not to talk about. Trying to over-control or manage “lunchroom” coffee break discussions seems a little overbearing, not very practical, and actually just about impossible.

A happy workforce is enhanced by happy lunch and break times, and that often includes talking about current events, last night’s TV shows, and, naturally, politics. I would, within reason, enjoy the political bantering, paying attention to and being on the lookout for conversations that cross the line or make people uncomfortable. Should that happen, use humor or a simple “let’s ratchet things down a bit,” to get things more reasonable.

Paul Boynton, president and CEO of The Moore Center, Manchester, is also a personal coach, corporate consultant, motivational speaker, host of the television show and radio show, "Begin with Yes" and author of the book by the same name. His most recent book is “Beginnings – A Daily Guidebook for Adventurous Souls.” He can be reached at beginwithyes@comcast.net.

Categories: Workplace Advice