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First Impressions: What Does Your Workplace Say About You?

By: Ariana B. Bianchi

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First impressions of your workplace, and your employees, can have a significant impact on the success of your business. Image may not be everything, but it does speak volumes about your organization's values, achievements, work ethic, and professionalism. In fact, approximately 55 percent of first impressions are based on overall appearance, and people often decide whether or not they like you, and will do business with you, within 10 seconds of a first encounter. What does your workplace say about you?

Regardless of the industry, every business can project a professional image and turn a first impression into increased profits and growth. This article presents information on how to assess and improve your business image, focusing on two main areas: 1) dress code and personal appearance and 2) workstations and overall workplace conditions.

Dress Code and Personal Appearance
Every company is different. A law firm will likely have a different dress code than a company that employs people who work outside in the heat. Despite these differences, it is essential that every company create and enforce a policy that outlines an appropriate standard of dress and grooming. Make compliance mandatory, and update and redistribute the policy as trends or company culture changes.

Whether your type of business warrants business suits, uniforms, or khakis, your dress code policy should include a statement such as:

ABC COMPANY expects that each employee's dress, personal appearance, and personal hygiene project a professional image. Good grooming and appropriate dress inspire customer confidence and help to create a pleasant work environment for all. We ask that you observe and practice conservative good taste in dress and appearance, and that you keep in mind you are representing the company at all times.

Your policy should go on to explain what type of dress is acceptable, such as in the statement below:

Professional business attire is appropriate Monday through Friday, during business hours. You are expected to present an authoritative, conservative, and competent image. Professional business attire includes business suits and polished shoes. It does not include casual attire in any manner, such as blue jeans, cotton leggings, shorts, sandals, sneakers, sundresses, lycra or spandex clothing, or t-shirts.

The organization has a right to be clear about what an employee can and cannot wear to work, so you may even decide to create an explicit dress chart.

Acceptable Attire For Men Acceptable Attire For Women
Business suits Business suits, dress suits
Pleated dress slacks and no-iron pants Pleated dress slacks and no-iron pants
Lightweight blazers worn over fitted, button-down shirts in solid colors Lightweight blazers worn over fitted, button-down shirts or blouses
Ties with simple patterns and neutral or toned-down colors Elegant sweater sets
Cuff links Hosiery, not including patterned tights, and simple, elegant jewelry
Polished shoes Polished shoes

Your organization can also explicitly address hair, accessories, and other image issues such as tattoos. Also, it may be just as important to clarify what is not acceptable as what is.

If you really want to drive home the importance of appearance to your employees, consider creating something I call an "Image Inventory," which is basically a checklist for your employees to use as a guideline for dressing each day. The Image Inventory should address Clothing and Clothing Maintenance, Accessories and Jewelry, Shoes, Hair, Facial Grooming (shaving for men and make-up for women), and Nails.

Remember, although the examples used above refer to business attire, you can create an explicit dress code for casual attire that is still professional and image-conscious. The point is that appearance matters, and you want your employees making the best possible impression they can.

One last point about dress codes: a 1998 survey conducted by research psychologist Jeffrey Magee revealed that relaxed dress codes actually had a detrimental affect on business, resulting in relaxed productivity, punctuality, ethics, manners, and quality. Is "relaxed" the image you want to convey?

Workstations and Overall Workplace Conditions
When it comes to creating a work environment that appears pleasing to the eye, a company policy might require the following of employees:

Check your spaces and desktops. Make sure they are organized with papers or inventory neatly stacked, stored, and labeled for efficient access. Desks should be cleaned each night and food and drink removed. All file folders that remain on your desk should be easily accessible and organized.

Again, a policy should be detailed and specific, so employees know what is expected of them. A clean, well-organized workstation should be mandatory, so compliance must be enforced.

The overall appearance of your workplace also has a huge impact on how your customers and even your current employees perceive your business. Of course, it can also affect your ability to recruit top-level people for employment.

Consider these questions for evaluating and improving the look and feel of your workplace:

The Entrance. Is the entrance to your workplace inviting, clean, and safe? If there is a parking lot, are bumpers in tact and is the pavement free of potholes? Do the exterior walls look freshly painted, free of chipped paint and dirt? Is the door to your workplace clean, attractive, and free of defects? Consider painting or replacing worn-out doors. If you have a reception area, is it inviting? Is the seating comfortable and clean (if appropriate)? Are the floors well-maintained? Is there someone stationed at the front to direct customers, or is there someone designated to perform this function? Customers do not appreciate having to wait or not knowing where to go.

The Inner Spaces. Bright, well-kept ceilings will help open up the workplace. Walls should appear freshly painted with a neutral color, although you may decide to accent one wall with a deeper color. The paint should have a washable, flat finish for easy maintenance. If you have carpet, make sure it is free of stains and defects. A steam cleaning service can dramatically change the appearance of carpeting or rug. If you have a worn or damaged area in carpet, consider placing a plant stand or accent rug over it to hide the blemish, but always be careful not to create a trip and fall safety hazard. Chairs in the workplace should be free of loose parts, stains, rips, dents, and dings. Armless chairs are comfortable and provide fewer surfaces to have to repair. Are there areas where clutter has started to accumulate? Clear out the mess, and make sure that passageways and the tops of cabinets and tables are clean and well-organized. Storage items should not be in plain view.

The People. We've already addressed the importance of dress code and professional appearance, so let's talk about the other messages your employees are conveying with their image. There should be a connection between your company's mission statement and the image you project. For instance, if there is a sign on your wall that reads "Customers First," do your employees convey that they have the skills to make that a reality? Is your sales staff trained in how to make that good first impression? Does the service department appear friendly and ready to support the promises made by your sales staff? Do all your employees put their best foot forward each and every time?

To sell your company to your favorite employment candidate depends on how he or she perceives your work environment. To sell your company's products or services to potential customers depends on how they perceive your business operations, the quality of your products, and the reliability of your service. Neatness counts. Organization counts. A pleasing visual field counts. Good communication skills matter, especially during those first few contact moments. Setting policies, training employees on those policies, and ensuring they are enforced is important in creating a pleasant work environment and turning a good first impression into a lasting impression.

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