Weekly Wrap: When Is Summer Casual Too Casual for the Office?

Whenever I think of “casual day” in the office, I think of the Dilbert book that is simply titled, Casual Day has Gone Too Far, because it reminds me that no matter what office perk employees may get, there is always somebody on the staff who will find a way to abuse the privilege.

And yes, offering workers the ability to sometimes dress casually is one of those perks ripe for abuse.

Workplace columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman dug into this topic over at The Miami Herald (a casual dress environment if there ever was one) when she asked, Summer in the workplace: How casual is too casual? She gives some well-needed advice on how to navigate this tricky topic.

Summer traditionally is a time when workplaces and attitudes become laid back. But it’s also when thorny issues arise that can impede one’s career. Everything from corporate retreats to summer vacations to casual dressing can open the door to taboo behavior…

During summer, some offices go casual or declare Friday the day to dress down. But participate with caution. Rosa Fernandez, an advertising account executive, admits to a misstep in the past. On one of her first jobs, she wore sandals and a white cotton shirt on a hot summer day. Her boss pulled her aside. “She said my shirt was see-through and that I looked like I was still in college.” …

Even when casual dress is a policy, gauge your boss’s lead. Shane Soefker, senior managing director of Cushman & Wakefield of Florida, says his workplace has declared Fridays as casual. However, he doesn’t feel comfortable trading slacks for jeans and he’s not really fond of his brokers doing it either. “We have lots of clients that roll through here and we still need to come across as professional,” he says.”

Casual dress: Is it a never-ending debate?

Some will undoubtedly point out that the debate over office casual — and how much is too much — comes up every year. And, those people would be right. A quick Google search will lead you to lots of different articles debating casual office dress, and the more you read the more you understand that the debate never really changes much.

But a Bloomberg article last year in the San Francisco Chronicle  had this thought from a Google executive that seemed to cut to the heart of the causal-dress-in-the-workplace issue.

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At Google, we know that being successful has little to do with what an employee is wearing,” said Jordan Newman, a spokesman for the Mountain View company. “We believe one can be serious and productive without a suit.”

Yes, that’s really the issue, isn’t it?  — being productive on the job. If you are successful at that, I think the issue of what you’re wearing in the office, and if it is too casual or not, will probably sort itself out, as Google seems to have discovered.

What the changing job market looks like

Of course, there’s more than casual dress in the office in the news this week. Here are some other HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of HR and talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • No shortage of jobs for tech workers in Massachusetts. You have no worries if you’re a tech worker in Massachusetts, because they can’t find enough of them there. As the Boston Globe reports, “Massachusetts has developed a technology labor shortage, one that could undermine a vital sector that helped pull the state from the last recession and is driving its recovery. Demand for high-tech talent is so great that workers are turning down six-figure salaries and companies are offering five-figure cash bounties for successful referrals – a stark contrast to lackluster hiring that has created a large pool of long-term unemployed and kept the state jobless rate at historically high levels.”
  • What does the changing job market really look like? The job market keeps evolving, with old-style manufacturing jobs falling out of favor for new types of work. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch digs into just how dramatically things are changing — and how workers need to be adjusting. “Neither Dennis Eskridge nor his co-workers sense anything extraordinary in the jobs they report to each morning,” the newspaper reports. “By making the transition from old manufacturing (the auto industry) to new (among other products, CG Power Systems produces electric transformers for power-generating wind turbines), Eskridge and company represent the U.S. economic future … The hourly employees that gathered in a CG conference room to discuss their jobs are meanwhile refreshingly guileless. They don’t view themselves as cutting-edge, blazing a trail millions of other blue collar laborers will travel as they extract the country from an employment crisis hurdling toward its fifth year. In their telling, they are simply survivors.”
  • Pet insurance becoming a mainstream benefit. Although some may think of pet insurance as a fringe benefit that some companies offer to employees, this Boston Globe story makes it clear that this is a benefit that is going mainstream. “Pet insurance offered by companies such as Liberty Hotel is becoming increasingly popular as owners grapple with the rising cost of caring for their animals and employers look for additional, low-cost ways to keep their workforce happy. For companies, pet insurance is a voluntary benefit, similar to life insurance or financial planning services, that they can offer at a group discount. The cost, however, is paid entirely by employees. Voluntary benefits are becoming more prevalent as consumers seek more options to manage costs and other risks during a down economy, according to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, and companies look for perks they don’t have to pay for.”
  • Be careful what you Tweet. As a Los Angeles disc jockey found out this week, Tweeting can be a dangerous activity — especially if it causes a riot. Here’s a cautionary tale, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times, about how one radio personality fired up his followers so much that his Tweets and subsequent live stunt nearly caused a riot in Hollywood.
  • More Dilbert on casual dress in the office. I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of Dilbert on dressing casual at work. Here’s a little more, for your amusement:


John Hollon is managing editor of Fuel50, an AI Opportunity Marketplace solution that delivers internal talent mobility and workforce reskilling. He's also the former founding editor of TLNT and a frequent contributor to ERE and the Fistful of Talent blog.