Not Every Office Lets Fans Fly Their Team Colors

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Football season is the perfect time for game-watching parties, tailgating and wearing your team colors with pride, but fans would be wise to leave heated rivalries -- and inappropriate team attire -- out of the office.

Although most employees know the difference between a friendly challenge and more spiteful competitiveness, the emotions of football season can heat things up, especially when coworkers are wearing team apparel with pride, says Lori Kleiman, human resource expert and founder of Lori Kleiman HR.

"If someone came into a Chicago office in a Green Bay Packers jersey they might get a comment or two, but hopefully everyone would laugh about it -- it all goes back to the culture of the organization," Kleiman says. "In offices where everyone is rooting for a different team, it comes down to having respect in the workplace."

At many offices nationwide, rivalries are taken in stride, and that's as it should be, says Taki Skouras, CEO of Alpharetta, Ga.-based cellphone accessory company Cellairis.

"Our office is full of sports enthusiasts, so naturally the office becomes a little more intense during the fall," Skouras says. "We love it! Everyone wants to show pride for their favorite teams, and who could blame them? Our office is very tight knit, so everyone knows to take the jabs in stride. It allows for a fun, competitive atmosphere."

It's true that fights in the workplace are rare, and seldom do they start over a sports rivalry or the team colors someone is wearing, Kleiman says. The bigger issue employers tend to worry about is lack of productivity.

"Most HR directors don't mind their people wearing game-day apparel, but most of them are not cool with everyone standing around discussing the latest on their office pool or rehashing last week's game," she says. "In other words, if you want to wear your team colors to show support that's one thing, but if you want to spend three hours talking about every play, it's entirely another."

Unfortunately, if managers and HR notice that "football Fridays" result in productivity taking a dive, the entire company is likely to lose the privilege.

"It only takes a couple of employees to take things to an extreme level, and then HR is forced to restrict the practice," she says.

Of course, if employees are interfacing with clients, it's a whole different story, says Claire Bissot, a senior professional in human resources at consultant CBIZ, where she's human resources business development manager.

"Today, fans can range from fair-weather to those that 'bleed' their team colors," Bissot says. "Just like the involvement in certain associations and groups can help build immediate trust and rapport with a client, picking the wrong team can lead to distrust, aversion and lost business."

In today's workplace, Bissot says it is a dangerous game to try to determine the level of passion and commitment of a fan.

"Ultimately, it is simply not worth the risk. Employees should look for clues like any logos in a client's office or use general conversation about sports to find out more before ever bringing their team, or sports in general, into the picture."

On the flip side, John Greene, president of CSB Training and chief operating officer of Collaborative Consulting, says that once you know your clients well, supporting the right team -- or having a friendly rivalry -- could earn you a few football season brownie points.

"I would never worry about offending a client by rooting for your own team," Greene says. "If the client is sports-oriented they will understand. In fact, I have seen it work in our favor by creating a fun and healthy rivalry when you're playing the client's team in a big game. It helps build relationships."

Unfortunately, most team apparel isn't exactly professional. While it's possible to find items such as logo ties for men or jewelry and purses for women, largely fans gravitate to T-shirts, tank tops, flip-flops and other items that are a no-go for many workplaces no matter the occasion.

"I would never recommend wearing anything more casual than the dress code, that's where you can definitely send a negative message," Greene says. "On this one, following the rules makes sense. While an occasional slip-up won't seriously hurt you, constantly ignoring the dress code will."

To show some spirit without being shown the door, Bissot says employees should get creative.

"By getting creative, anyone can use their apparel to support their team without the risk of offending someone, appearing unprofessional or causing a disruption," she says. "Coordinate a professional outfit that shows your pride by wearing your team colors -- like women adding an accent scarf or men coordinating with a team-colored tie -- but leave the jerseys and logoed apparel at home."

No matter who you're rooting for this fall, Kleiman says the most important thing is knowing company culture and what your managers expect. If you're new at a company and your employee handbook didn't address the topic adequately, hang back a few weeks and see what your co-workers and bosses wear.

"When considering whether or not to wear team apparel at work, employees should always remember to dress for the job they want, not the job they have," Bissot says.

If you liked this article you might like

To Downsize or Not to Downsize: The Retiree's Question

To Downsize or Not to Downsize: The Retiree's Question

10 Reasons Hiring an Older Worker May be the Best Decision You Ever Make

10 Reasons Hiring an Older Worker May be the Best Decision You Ever Make

5 Things Boomer Employees With Millennial Managers Should Never Do

5 Things Boomer Employees With Millennial Managers Should Never Do

5 Questions to Ask Before You Take the Plunge and Quit Your Day Job

5 Questions to Ask Before You Take the Plunge and Quit Your Day Job

3 Reasons Baby Boomers and Millennials Are More Alike Than Anyone Wants to Admit

3 Reasons Baby Boomers and Millennials Are More Alike Than Anyone Wants to Admit