DEAR MISS MANNERS: I own a small company and have one employee. Sean does a fantastic job at the office, but dresses rather casually. I am OK with this, as it is just him and me in the office, and I want everyone to be comfortable.
We are now doing new client presentations, and I need Sean’s expertise at these. I’ve asked him to dress in “business casual” attire for these events. However, he arrives on the day of the presentation with scuffed shoes and pants/shirt that are mismatched and below what I would consider business casual.
I know the clients will see this as unprofessional, and it may impact our ability to win new work. I suspect he may not have the background or knowledge to know how to dress properly for these situations.
I don’t want to be rude or overstep my bounds within the workplace, but how much can I direct his wardrobe? If he doesn’t own the proper attire, is it unreasonable to ask him to purchase it?
GENTLE READER: He likely thinks he already complied. “Business casual” is an oxymoron, vague and undefinable, so Miss Manners hardly blames its hapless followers for interpreting it as they wish.
It is not unreasonable for you, as his employer, to require a certain dress code, but you must be specific. “These clients are a bit more formal, so business attire -- a button-down shirt, dress shoes and pants that are not jeans or overly pocketed -- is probably warranted. I know that we are generally more casual in the office when it is just us, but we want to make a good impression in order to help win the account.”
While you do not have to offer any other assistance with this, making sure that his salary is commensurate with the ability to purchase new clothes would not be remiss. Nor would the recommendation of a good shoe polish.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: The committee planning a work event invited a guest speaker, who responded, “I will let you know.” Another member of the committee asked another speaker, who agreed enthusiastically. How do I tell the first speaker we no longer need them to speak at the event?
GENTLE READER: How long did you take before you changed course?
Miss Manners understands that a definitive reply is more appealing and convenient than a vague one. However, having not been told otherwise, the first person might have thought that the offer was still open.
The proper response to the noncommittal one would have been, “We will need to confirm within the week.” Or even, “When will you be able to let us know?”
Miss Manners cannot tell from your letter if the committee was miffed at the lack of enthusiasm and looked for a more sure option, or if a genuine mistake was made when another member asked. Either way, she recommends that you plead the latter: “I am afraid that there was a miscommunication, and not knowing for sure if you were available, another committee member asked a speaker who was more able to commit. We hope that you will be available next time.”
The likely subtext, “Next time, you should answer quickly and be more flattered that we asked” will likely be understood.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)