"Ask them, 'Can I give you feedback about ways I think you can move up faster?'" she says. "Incorporate attire, but add something else, too. 'Sue, you have a great smile and I encourage you to use that in your interactions so people see your friendlier side. And what we wear influences the perceptions that people have about us. Have you considered altering your work attire slightly to send the message that you want to move up?'" No matter how you approach the initial conversation, John Greene, president of CSB Training and chief operating officer of Collaborative Consulting, says that it's best to deal with the situation swiftly. "Make sure you tell them what the consequences are if they don't do what you're asking," Greene says. "Stick to it. If you tell them they will be fired if they don't clean up their act, and then they don't clean up their act -- fire them. This may sound harsh, but you will lose credibility if you back down and let them get their way." Greene says it's best to err on the side of caution when managers are addressing employees of a different sex. "It's better to have women confront women or men confront men on issues of skimpy or revealing clothing, not just because they relate better on dress but also from an HR perspective -- it helps keep the company out of potential legal hot water," Greene says.
No matter if the employee in question is male or female, Greene says it's important to be honest. "Explain to them why it's inappropriate, makes people feel uncomfortable and hurts performance," he says. "It's never fun but, as a manager in these situations, you are not your employee's friend -- you are looking out for the performance of the company and for the other workers who are affected." Keep in mind that not all employees with attire issues are trying to be relaxed or fashionable, says Robyn Dizes, manager of career development services at Peirce College in Philadelphia. "In some cases, there may be certain issues that need to be addressed. These could include financial constraints that are withholding the employee from dressing the way they should or may wish they could," Dizes says. Also, keep in mind that some employees have religious beliefs that may require they dress a certain way. Because of this, conversations about attire should be never be conducted in a group setting, Dizes says, and in some cases, visual examples may need to be shared about what is and isn't appropriate. "Emphasize to the employee that the recommended attire is in line with the company's mission statement and culture," she says. "These methods will allow you to illustrate the importance of perception and what is expected and necessary to convey the right level of professionalism in a given workplace."