It’s that time of year: office parties, drinks with clients, karaoke with colleague … whether we’re party animals or shy violets, this is the one time of year we have to show up and show off.
Knowing what to wear is important. You might think that a mistake in your party clothing is a momentary lapse, but you only need to listen in to the gossip about last year’s party (and the year before, and the year before) to understand how our appearance at social events can really shape our perception within our organisation.
Look at the invitation, or if it’s not a formal invite, ask others. ‘Casual’ can be a nightmare but if you’re male, assume it means shirt and trousers, not jeans and a T-shirt. For women casual is even more complex, covering everything between a day dress and leggings through to smart trousers and an evening top.
1. Men should put a tie in their pockets and women should slide some dressy earrings and a lightweight metallic scarf into their bags. Then, if everybody else turns up more formally dressed than you, you can nip out and upgrade your appearance in the toilets!
2. Remember to take a jacket, hat and gloves. Evenings go on longer than planned and sometimes change venue. If you end up relocating, it’s important to be warm and comfortable, especially as you might find yourself wandering down the street with the Chief Executive or sharing a car with your boss’s boss! It’s better to plan for all eventualities than to be shivering and miserable when everybody else is warm and having fun.
3. Just because you have a great cleavage or look like George Clooney in a tux, doesn’t mean this is the time to reveal your party animal. Office events should be something you can look back on with total serenity and that means not upstaging others, nor creating a reputation for yourself that is based on your looks, rather than your professional abilities. That means dressing conservatively (think about smart shirts, elegant skirts and formal jackets rather than bling, bodily exposure and brands) and focusing on networking not necking it!
According to a survey by Jacamo, men who want promotions at work should show up in a light blue shirt and dark blue tie. However, it’s not enough just to wear smart clothing on the day of your annual appraisal or when the big boss is in the office. Around 14% of men think they’ve failed to gain promotion because of their casual clothing. Quite amazingly, 5% of men have lucky ties, cufflinks or socks. (Socks?)
The most hated clothing, by bosses is apparently socks worn with sandals (socks again) which two thirds of bosses hate, printed T-shirts with slogans are close behind at 58%.
Women have it even tougher, according to the Wall Street Journal. Female CEOs should dress conservatively, but this cuts across their ability to express their personality and individuality and may inhibit their progress, whilst dressing too provocatively or inappropriately can lead to them being considered unprofessional. While some women are taken aside and given advice on how to choose work clothing (suits, knee-length skirts and dresses, shoulders covered, bra straps hidden and not too much cleavage, apparently) others proclaim their right to dress as they please and still make it to CEO level.
Regardless of how we choose to dress, understanding our work culture and ensuring we fit in but look ready to handle more responsibility may be key to making progress and in such cases a classic approach to dress, with suits and ties, blazers and smart shirts, can be a way of fitting in comfortably whilst still demonstrating our willingness to step up to the next level.
It’s not just a question of tinsel around the notice-board and mistletoe where it will cause maximum embarrassment! Winter working conditions affect many businesses, and for employees who work partially or completely outdoors, can be a matter of life and death. While the Met Office has responded with caution to stories of ‘the worst winter for decades’ being ahead of us, it’s still true that preparation for poor weather conditions can do a lot to help keep organisations running, staff healthy and productivity high.
Gritting areas where people walk into buildings can be crucial. Remember that while salt may be more effective, it will have a longer term impact on your carpets and flooring! Anti-slip mats that soak up salty water and trap grit have two great features (a) they stop your flooring being destroyed (b) they prevent the slip hazard of wet shoes. Remember to ensure your cleaning staff have mats they can rotate so that as one becomes sodden a fresh one can be put in place. Don’t forget to grit for cyclists too … the area from the cycle rack to the door is just as vital as the path from the main car park. Ensure cyclists wear hi-visibility clothing and have good lights as low light conditions can lead to workplace collisions.
Leaves and other hazards
Remove fallen leaves as these can be a trip hazard themselves, or conceal one, such as black ice.
Cold is relative. For office workers who are sedentary it can be a temperature that well-insulated outdoor workers would find uncomfortably hot. Cost stress on the other hand, is absolute. Whenever temperatures drop markedly below the previous norm, heat leaves the body rapidly. This can lead to a number of problems from the very minor to the life-threatening. Cold stress may be seen in increased accidents due to cold, slowing down of productivity, through to chilblains and even, in extreme circumstances, hypothermia.
Ensure that your outdoor work is completed in the warmer months or, if essential to be done in winter, the warmest part of the day. Provide hot liquids if the temperature drops suddenly, and ensure there are warm areas for people to take breaks – a draughty office can be as chilling as the cab of a crane for those who don’t get to move around and generate body heat through activity.
Monitoring workers at risk of cold stress is very important, providing education about the risk of cold stress and ensuring employees have suitable warm clothing can be key to preventing accidents that would otherwise result from cold hands and feet, and to ensuring core temperatures are kept high enough for staff to be productive and comfortable throughout the working day.
Most people know that driving accidents rise when the clocks go back because of driving in the dark, but fewer are aware of the effect of time changes on workplace safety and productivity.
Disturbed sleep patterns as the clocks go back cause people to find it difficult to sleep at night which can lead to productivity slow-downs as staff spend time browsing the internet rather than engaging with more complex work based tasks. There are health effects too – during the first month after the clocks go back, the rate of heart attacks decreases slightly. On the other hand, when the clocks go forward, heart attack rates increase as the shorter sleeping time causes stress increases and less time for healing sleep.
Car accidents increase when the clocks go back, as do workplace accidents. And a study of miners published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2009 shows that changes in daylight hours cause mild disorientation.
Employers can help prevent accidents and even health related issues. Providing daylight-balanced lightbulbs can help employees adjust quicker. Those who perform best at night can take up to 21 days to rebalance their sleep schedules, while morning people can adjust as quickly as 48 hours after the change.
Offering mild exercise in the morning at work can also help reset circadian rhythms, so just a few desk based stretches can help prevent accidents, while a more formal programme, perhaps a morning jog as part of training towards running a charity race, can really speed up the adjustment times, oddly, so can changing clothing. The neural connections of the brain respond to patterns, so if we put on clothing our brain tends to think it’s morning. Changing into sports clothing to go for a little run can help reset the body clock by suggesting there’s been a ‘second morning’ so the brain produces more hormones to get the body moving!
It’s been confirmed that nearly 300 Pagans in UK prisons will be given a day off work on 31 October, because of their religious beliefs. Pagans will be allowed to celebrate their holiday with a variety of items including dowsing twigs, rune stones and hoodless robes. Hoodies, and robes with hoods, are banned from common areas of prisons for security reasons.
A designer in Stevenage has been asked to reduce the impact of his Halloween garden display as it is making young children cry as they pass it. The display, which is based on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, includes a realistic limbless torso spilling entrails. Police confirm that they have ‘advised’ him to tone down the gore, following complaints.
So holiday traditions can be controversial. How should Halloween be treated in the workplace?
Perhaps its best to step back from the commercial aspects of the festival and look at the underlying ideas. Any holiday can be used to build company traditions and break down barriers to communication. Consider:
Apple dipping is messy and can destroy a good work shirt in seconds, but pumpkin carving, especially if you provide aprons, can be a way for staff to reveal their quirky or artistic sides.
Dressing up – rather than getting people into a big Halloween costume contest, why not divide people into teams issue some workplace items: coloured post its, elastic band, sheets of coloured paper and give them ten minutes to construct a costume that one team member must be able to wear to complete a task. Prizes for best looking and best performing costume mean both the pretty and the practical get rewarded.
For small companies or businesses or where this kind of event is not appropriate:
Secret Pagan – a small gift that must be natural/home-made to swap on Halloween can be a lot of fun, we’ve seen everything from T-shirts with names bleached into them (very effective) through to carved candles and even pumpkin flavoured bath salts. You might be amazed at what your colleagues can produce!
American schools are changing their behaviour in a way that has led to commentary at the highest level. For as long as anybody can remember, Trick or Treat and Halloween costumes in school have been an American tradition. Without it, the whole premise of ET would simply not have worked, so states-wide is the concept, but now many schools are trying to ban, or at least scale down, the costume and candy extravaganza that is Halloween in the USA.
Concerns about food allergies, safety issues and fears that the wall of separation between church and state is being broken. Peanut treats have been cited as one reason for cancellation whilst other schools think Halloween has a religious connotation that could ‘advance or favour’ a specific religious belief.
In the UK, concerns are more about Satanism. A youth worker and Sunday School teacher in Gloucester is hoping to stage an ‘Anti-Halloween’ march on 31 October and to get Halloween banned from the city altogether in favour of a day celebrating local philanthropist Robert Raikes. His claim is that, ‘ …shops and supermarkets are buying into satanic worship by exploiting Halloween,’ and that ‘Old people are not into having ghouls knocking on their doors …If people dressed as angels and knocked on doors offering to do good, that would be OK. But that isn’t happening.’ He goes on to say, ‘Many schools try not to promote Halloween and knocking on doors because it encourages a fear factor.’
It’s certainly true that many schools are trying to create guidelines that support a less threatening view of Halloween by promoting less frightening costumes or insisting on home-made outfits and ‘treats’ as doing good works for people in return for sweets.
If your school is one of those, consider some really easy costumes such as gluing or taping empty Smartie tubes to a pair of leggings, putting on some scholarly looking glasses and a smart white shirt with pens in the top pocket and labelling yourself ‘Smartie Pants’. Or, be a rocket man by dressing in a long-sleeved white T-shirt and white jeans or leggings, with silver tape around the arms and down the legs to mimic NASA uniforms, then you can make a ‘jet pack’ from cardboard rolls taped together and covered in silver foil with paper cones on top and red and yellow paper ‘flames’ at the base and a pair of gloves with silver tape around them.
The good news for British business is that while less than 30% of UK adults are expected to take part in Bonfire Night events this year, they will spend a whopping £386 million on fireworks, food, drink and travel to organised firework events or parties.
Even fewer, just 23% of adults, participate in Halloween activities, and spend only around £250 million – the highest percentage of activity being the 8% of UK adults who will carve a pumpkin, the lowest being the 4% who will go trick or treating with children.
However, there’s a notable lack of support for both festivals: nearly 70% of grown-ups think fireworks should only be used in properly organised displays, not purchased and let off at home, and nearly half the adult population thinks Halloween is an unattractive American import.
In the workplace, the major problem with both events is alcohol: accidents at work resulting from hungover adults increase very slightly if Bonfire Night is followed by a working day and while Halloween doesn’t seem to have the same link, that may be because only around 7% of the adult population currently attend Halloween parties.
There is a small but clear peak in absence from work owing to injury resulting from firework handling in the UK and employers might want to consider displaying Firework Safety posters. The Fire Brigade in several regions will come and make presentations to larger organisations about sensible clothing – such as ensuring children wear hi-vis items so they can be seen if they get near fireworks, safe firework handling and what to do if something goes wrong. Increasingly, companies are choosing to offer concessionary tickets to a local organised firework display as a team-building exercise and to reduce the risk of employees becoming injured (or inebriated!)
As the UK government tells schools to loosen the purchasing requirements they impose to allow parents to shop around for uniform items, schools themselves have been assisting pupils in disadvantaged areas of the world. The most recent example of this school-to-school charity comes from Kingshill Church School in Nailsea. The school has recently changed uniforms, to reflect its new academy status, and the old uniforms have been donated Nailsea Baptist Church who transported them to Malawi where they were given to a school there which has been both built with and supplied from charitable donations.
Uniform donation is not the only way that children can be involved in charity work. Giving them a chance to actually participate in voluntary activity can be valuable – and not just for those they help. From the organised altruism of youth-founded charities like the Archimedes Alliance with its fourteen year old founder, through to simple daily charitable acts like litter collection on the way to school, via organised ‘sponsored’ charitable events all help young people to recognise their values, to live in full awareness of the relative affluence and power of the developed world, and to explore skills and talents that formal education might not recognise or foster.
Many businesses try to integrate working with the local community but miss the opportunity to help schools create voluntary systems. This three way linkage can have massive benefits: it helps the recipients, it builds self-esteem in young people, it gives companies a sense of fitting into and being valued in their community. It also means that the cream of local young people get to know the business and can lead to a talent-led recruitment policy that provides a business with deep knowledge of young candidates who can help develop the business.
In a fascinating article for Newsday, various commentators explore the role of wearable technology in our daily lives … and in the workplace.
Many of us have already adopted wear-tech in the form of watches or bracelets that calibrate the calories we’ve eaten or burned up, or clothing that changes colour according to body temperature which is used in hospital wards and increasingly creeping into baby-wear, as a way of assessing if small babies are too hot, or too cold, or have a wet nappy. But now it’s hitting the workplace, and not everybody is happy about it.
Google Glass has been a major player and it’s complicated. How do you decide if somebody is the best candidate for the job when they have access to a spectacle computer? Do they know the answer to the questions you’re asking or are their rhetorical responses, ‘How would I deal with a difficult colleague … let me think a moment’ actually cues to their onboard computer to generate the best answer?
What about human rights? Employees in retail already have hand-held computers to generate answers to questions about stock, but what about wearable computers? While geeks may be happy to use their body temperature to generate power, 42% of American workers polled this year said they would not want wearable technology in the workplace – and it’s easy to see why. Would you be happy to be prodded and poked around by people seeking information about stock levels or discounts from the computer in your T-shirt? How would you feel if they didn’t interact with you, just with your uniform?
In an age where customer service is all-important, the move to wearable technology is a problematic one for companies – whilst speedy information is king, human interaction is also considered vital by almost all major businesses, so this area will be one that has to be carefully negotiated.
Work gloves are not just a health and safety requirement but an investment in productivity – they keep people safe but also allow them to do their jobs well. Selecting work gloves is usually straightforward but training in this area can be sketchy so here’s a guide to choosing and using work gloves.
1. Light gloves, often called dot gloves are the first choice for tasks like light lifting or dirty jobs that don’t involve hazardous chemicals or elements that can cause damage like glass. The ‘dots’ which are constructed of PVC bonded to a fabric base, ensure grip is maintained even on smooth surfaces and the fabric glove fits the hand well and is flexible.
2. For handling chemicals or potentially dangerous liquids, gloves constructive of impermeable fabric are essential. This can be neoprene, PVC, or polyamide. Some people find these gloves make their hands sweat and others appear to have a mild reaction to the material. In such circumstances, low allergen gloves or thin cotton ‘liner’ gloves can be worn.
3. Delivery drivers and couriers often wear fingerless gloves as this allows them to handle pens and other small items whilst maintaining grip and finger warmth, which is important when travelling in traffic. Such gloves are cost effective and can significantly reduce the risk of accidents in cold weather.