We are upgrading our Business Casual Dress Code. One area of improvement is with the receptionist. She has long red hair that she is very proud of. She keeps the top and bangs combed and neat, the problem is her ends. They are straggly and split. She doesn't like to trim her hair because she likes it long. Do you have suggestions on how to approach this touchy subject?

Yes, this is a touchy subject and in general, dress codes do not address this particular issue. It’s challenging to define and regulate the cut and condition of an employee’s hair. Assuming that you are in a position of authority to discuss this with the receptionist, here’s an outline of the best way to proceed.

  • Schedule a meeting with her and possibly even another manager, specifically her direct superior. Hold the meeting in a private area where no other workers can overhear the conversation.
  • First, praise her for her skill set or something that she does really well. Then ask her about her career goals. Does she want raises, promotions, etc.? Where does she see herself a year from now…two years from now…five years from now.
  • Ask what she sees as her limitations…what could be holding her back from achieving these goals. Help her along here by saying, “Do you believe that your skills and your professional image support those goals?” She may say yes, but this is your entrée into the professional image arena.
  • Ask where she would rate her professional image on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being highly professional, explaining that one’s business image includes clothing choices, hair (cut and color), grooming, posture, demeanor, voice, communication skills (including nonverbal body language), etiquette skills, and capabilities.

Get the picture? You want to draw the information from her, if possible. Then slide into the subject of her hair, and how her split ends are detracting from her professionalism and her personal beauty. She may believe the myth that long hair makes a woman more powerful, sexier, attractive, etc. If you are comfortable or knowledgeable on this subject, discuss the pitfalls.

Be prepared and armed with “hair” intelligence, such as these tips: 1) once ends are split and frayed, conditioner or other products will not repair them; they must be cut. 2) hair grows faster and appears thicker when it is trimmed regularly 3) hair grows faster in the warmer months so now is an excellent time to cut off several inches 4) businesslike hair styles include lengths no longer than 2 to 3” below the shoulders and in healthy condition from roots to ends 5) on the nonverbal level, unhealthy hair with inches and inches of split ends suggest that she does not have a high level of attention to detail or that she takes pride in her appearance, her work, or her work ethic. Excessive split ends can also convey laziness and an “I don’t care” attitude 6) Unsightly ends downgrade a woman’s perceived economic status, which affects how others treat her, which also affects her social and professional opportunities.

If she refuses to cut her hair, suggest that she wear it up, tucking in the frayed ends. You may want to show her some examples of businesslike updo styles. Somewhere in the conversation, you should compliment her hair color. People with natural red hair are often sensitive about it, although they are proud of it. Keep the focus on the condition and cut of her hair. It’s also important that your tone be one of a mentor/helper not punitive, nor condescending. Be clear that you want to help her succeed.

Good luck to you,
Sherry Maysonave


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