Grooming Guidelines: In-office appropriateness

by epi on August 21, 2012

Q: I work in a group environment where each team member has a cubicle in a common open space.  The atmosphere is very casual.  Recently, one female team member took off her sandals (which are common here) and began applying lotion to her feet in her cubicle.  One of my co-workers had a comical but negative reaction to this behavior, while the group as a whole was evenly divided as to whether or not it was appropriate.  Are there any guidelines for office grooming?

A: Sandals even show up in summer at The Emily Post Institute.  But casual doesn’t mean personal grooming is acceptable in one’s cubicle, any more than it’s acceptable in one’s office.  Most grooming should be done privately in a restroom.  The only exceptions that spring to mind are a quick brush of the hair, an application of hand lotion or, for a woman, a touch-up of lipstick.  My litmus test is simple: How would the grooming behavior look if a major client or prospect happened to walk by as it was being done?  The sight of you with your shoes or sandals off, bending over and applying lotion to your bare feet, doesn’t send a very positive image.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mariette's Back to Basics August 21, 2012 at 11:23 am

Your reply to this is correct. Being North Western European from origin it even comes to mind that there is a difference about a touch-up of lipstick. In my memory, I’ve never ever seen this done in public, only in a restroom. Still I don’t like the sight of women applying lipstick, at table in restaurants after the meal… And for sure not in the office! Even a quick brush of the hair is not appropriate. Often I have seen this done in the seat on an airplane. It makes me shudder for the lack of hygiene that those persons have. This kind of grooming can all be done, if needed, during the breaks when you visit the restroom anyway. It sure doesn’t make a professional impression as it looks like you ran behind and take care of grooming at the office, instead of coming to work looking fresh and professional; ready for facing the job and/or clients.
Mariette’s Back to Basics


Elizabeth August 21, 2012 at 11:21 pm

I agree with Mariette wholeheartedly. I feel like being well-groomed or well made-up is a bit like a magician’s trick. If you see how it’s done, the illusion of being naturally well put-together is ruined. The whole point is to look effortless. (Not that I often am. But luckily I am not in a field when it is often required.)


Vanna Keiler August 22, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I would make this a great opportunity for the staff to enquire about office policy regarding this matter (under Employee Conduct, office behavior). If none such exists, perhaps a consensus should be taken that staff are interested in having one created. This way, all employees fully understand management’s expectations from here on end. If this is not possible (poor or unavailable management)…I would leave it alone, unfortunately. Unless you are the supervisor or there is a huge distraction with seeing this behavior being performed on a regular basis, it may be one of those things you just have to ignore and hope a supervisor catches and acts on.


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