29

Edit: I am wearing business casual anyways, but was alarmed that I was told I was being insubordinate over my mention of comfort.

TL;DR: Company encourages casual and comfortable wear, I get hot easily and wear (khaki) shorts to work. New boss wants her new team to dress business casual, for presentation reasons. I sit in a corner and develop all day in a call center, and my peers dress casually. I only make $31k/y doing this work, less than many of the floor supervisors who wear whatever makes them happy. My comment on my unwillingness was cited as insubordination.


To start, I work as a Data Analyst/Web Developer in a callcenter. I sit in the corner of the building, on the call center floor. Company culture and policy describes a very lax dress code, where wearing casual and comfortable clothes is actively encouraged over more formal wear.

My superiors and coworkers often wear street clothes to work, a few of them regularly wear shorts as the building can get a bit hot sometimes due to a lack of thermostat control.

My new boss, a lady late in her career, who has been very motivational and helpful. Told our new team that she expects us to properly present ourselves. Which means no casual clothing, we need to wear pants and a collared shirt. The reason is that we will periodically be in meetings with company executives and other high-level leadership, that she expects her team to stand out and be presentable.

During this meeting, I said that I would be more than willing to wear business casual clothing when in the executive offices or when attending scheduled meetings with executives. But that I get hot easily in the company buildings, and would much rather work while comfortable than not. She effectively shot me down and the meeting ended.

Today, we had a 1x1, and she said that she considered my comment on her clothing policy insubordination, that I was being selfish, and need to stop thinking about just my own wants. Along with how I'm being selfish to ask for a double-wide desk because I can't fit my work equipment on the 2.5ft wide cubicle I currently am at... I was unable to eloquently describe why I don't want to wear business casual clothing while sitting in a back corner programming all day, she was very effective at turning what I was saying back around at me. In the end I almost felt like a petulant child with how I was being treated.


Is this a battle I shouldn't even try fighting? If not, what should I do to deal with this?

Should I go out and buy business-casual wear, be hot and uncomfortable, just to sit where no one sees me and program? I would rather be comfortable and focus on my work, than be uncomfortable and focus on when I can get home and become comfortable.

I don't have the social elegance or manipulation skills that my boss has, and am unable to effectively communicate with her on points she is set on. How can I effectively communicate the reasoning of why I should be able to wear whatever I find comfortable within company clothing policy?

  • 8
    To depict your meeting comment as insubordination is asinine. You are dealing with superior that does play nice. Not fair but suck it up or take the risk of getting fired. Can you get a note from a Dr. and to to HR? – paparazzo Aug 27 '16 at 5:42
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    If that is $31k in the USA then you should be able to find a better paying job without an asinine superior quite easily. – gnasher729 Aug 27 '16 at 15:23
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    We don't really know exactly what you said during the meeting. "I won't follow that policy" would clearly have been insubordinate. "I will follow that policy, but here's why I disagree with it" would not (IMHO). Presumably your comments where somewhere in between, but we can't tell where. – Keith Thompson Aug 29 '16 at 16:03
  • 31k as data scientist? How many data scientists does it take to see that this is a CRAPPY payment. Ridiculously low for that area. Like "get a grip" low. Not "you negotiated bad" but "you get a fraction of what the market pays". But then, you also should start dressing up like someone to be taken serious, you know. – TomTom Jan 7 at 10:22
  • Regardless of everything else, contradicting your boss in front of other people is going to create a problem. The fact is, bosses are secretly terrified of telling someone to do something and being ignored. So they are constantly trying to be perceived as "always right, and never disagreed with". You might have had more success talking to your boss privately. (As far as the heat goes, at one job of mine there was no air-conditioning. My boss came up to me and was surprised to see me spit out the ice cubes I was eating.) – Jennifer Jan 24 at 16:06
66
+50

In the end I almost felt like a petulant child with how I was being treated.

Let's imagine it from the new bosses perspective, just given what you've said. I can imagine her writing a question here something like:

  • I was giving a meeting to a new team where she introduced a policy. In the middle of the meeting, one of my new employees effectively said, "I'm not going to follow your policy and am going to do something different." This employee was willing to publicly defy this policy in front of me and my new team.

    When asked about it in a 1/1 setting, they weren't even able to articulate why they disagreed coherently. How should I deal with this employee? They feel insubordinate and are compromising my ability to lead my new team by publicly arguing with me instead of discussing concerns in private.

Perspective changes things.

And this potential interpretation ignores any attitude you might have conveyed through how/what you said.


The way you convince people of ideas most effectively is to make them understand how your desired result benefits them the most. Right now your new boss has reasons for this policy (which are fairly good reasons, even if you disagree with them, they are reasonably good reasons). Also people like acknowledgement and understanding of their ideas. By immediately arguing, you communicated hostility and lack of understanding to your boss - simply saying, "I think it's a good idea to try to present ourselves to senior management. Do you know how often these meetings will happen? Maybe we could plan on having a more formal dress code on those days?" or something like that.

You need to communicate how your perspective is more beneficial than her reasons. Your post sort of reads more whiney though, which means you need to be incredibly careful in not coming across this way. The absolutely last thing you want is to come across as whiney.

The core problem you have is that the building is too hot. Unfortunately, by focusing on a separate issue, you've basically made it such that the other issue is probably a lost cause without some finesse (read the above manager interpretation).

So you need to talk about this problem. Note that not wearing more formal clothing is only one solution here. You want her to come to that realization. So ask about it - ask if they can turn down the temperature or provide fans. As part of this conversation, be open to her ideas. But if your fundamental problem with the dress code is building temperature focus on that issue.

Ultimately you need to decide if this is a hill you want to die on. If so, you probably are going to lose. Most people don't react well to their first impression of someone being hostility and it's possible you may not ever be able to constructively talk through this with your new manager.


As an aside, if you make $31k and are a web developer go find a different job that pays considerably more. If you are doing web development you are frankly underpaid.

Software development happens to be a field with high career mobility currently. Take advantage of that.

  • 4
    I can't upvote you enough for the brilliant presentation! – ivan_pozdeev Jan 6 at 23:27
  • I would like to, again, emphasize the last point. At the moment, the job market for web developers is great. No need to take this nonsense for the amount you're getting. There's a lot of remote jobs as well if you're unwilling to move – bytepusher Jan 6 at 23:58
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    At the moment, the job market for web developers is great. Depends on the country and even where you are in this country. In France, anywhere else than in Paris, junior web dev are paid less than 25k€/y and junior software engineers less than 30k€/y. I agree for OP's case (in US) but that's not always true. – LP154 Jan 7 at 9:13
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Your manager has stated her policy. Unless a higher level of management tells her she can't make this a requirement, she is not going to change her mind.

Either find business-casual you are comfortable wearing -- there are fabrics which breathe better, though they may cost more -- or put up with it at least long enough to move into another department. Fighting a fairly reasonable request may be a career limiting action.

  • 5
    I'll second the latter point. As someone who is generally the first to melt when it warms up, I've had to deal with dressing up in warmer environments for a number of years. You can buy polo shirts made with tshirt weight fabric that aren't any more heat retaining than the tshirts we'd both rather be wearing. For pants definitely spend up for dressier ones made with thin fabric; they're a lot cooler than dockers with near denim thick fabric. – Dan Neely Aug 27 '16 at 5:45
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    I have friends who have about linen as a summer fabric. Haven't worn it myself, but... – keshlam Aug 27 '16 at 7:25
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    Linen is good, breathes well and light, I avoid synthetics since they tend to make me sweat more even light ones and they react badly to sweat, cotton just soaks it up.. – Kilisi Aug 27 '16 at 10:21
  • C/have/rave/ in previous comment, of course. – keshlam Aug 27 '16 at 19:40
  • Thanks, I just went out to buy new clothes and realized how expensive they where. I have at best a $50 budget for new clothes, I managed to get two polos and a single pair of pants from Walmart. I hope those do the trick... – Douglas Gaskell Aug 28 '16 at 23:05
3

Maybe instead of getting into a tug of war over values, you find a compromise. Shorts on Fridays. With proper notice before meetings with the execs, you could wear business-casual on those days. Do explain the issue with the thermostat to your boss- that's important because if your boss doesn't know, she'll assume the temperature in the office is not a concern.

2

How can I effectively communicate the reasoning of why I should be able to wear whatever I find comfortable within company clothing policy?

At this point you cannot and shouldn't. Keep reading for why.

Edit: I am wearing business casual anyways, but was alarmed that I was told I was being insubordinate over my mention of comfort.

During a team meeting with your new boss, you openly defied her wishes by stating that you would only dress up if you knew in advance that you would be having a meeting with higher-ups. That is paraphrased, but I think accurately reflects what happened.

So... it sounds to me like you were insubordinate.
It also sounds like she used restraint, instead of writing you up for it (which would have been too much) she called you in to a 1:1 meeting to tell you she regards your comment as insubordinate. She also may have given you an opportunity to explain yourself but that wasn't 100% clear (maybe she just lectured you).


You have a lot of options, but my guess is that many of them will end badly for you because you have already painted a big target on yourself in your boss's eyes.

Your immediate boss/supervisor is who you take your orders from. If she said you need to dress up, then you need to because she is evaluating your performance.
This will remain true until there are enough people so impressed by you that you can do what you want - hint: that isn't a junior level position.

Is this a battle I shouldn't even try fighting?

Correct, you shouldn't fight it - at least not directly, and certainly don't repeat the mistake you just made.

If not, what should I do to deal with this?

Where do you go from here?

Own your part of the problem.
"I thought about you insubordinate comment. I've realized that I shouldn't have argued with you in front of the team - I didn't think about how that would come across. I should have approached you directly with my problem."

Offer a solution.
"Would it be okay if I brought in a small fan? When I wear long pants I get hot - that's why I usually wear shorts. Maybe a fan would solve that problem.

Ask her advice.
"I will have to buy some new clothes to conform to the new dress code. I did a web search and there is some disagreement about "business casual". I want to buy the right clothes so, for example, does business casual mean no denim to you?"

To me, in case it matters, business casual for males means a collared shirt (polo-style or button down) and long pants. It also includes jeans if they aren't ripped or overly worn - but wouldn't include t-shirts or shorts.

After you and your boss are working well together for a while (and I don't mean before March) you could again try the "Offer a solution" route:
"Would it be okay if I kept a pair of long pants at my desk that I can quickly change into for meetings? It was really hot yesterday and I think I would have been more productive if it were okay for me to wear my shorts."

2

The best way to get supervisors to come around to your way of thinking is to explain why they care about doing things your way. There's an old saying in motivational speaking: "What's in it for me, and why do I care?" That's what your boss wants: She wants to know what's in it for her if she lets you not wear business casual and why does she care.

So explain it to her: "The building gets very hot sometimes, and I'm not good at handling heat. If I get overheated, then I'll be more tired and less productive. Therefore I'd like to not wear business casual clothes unless it's absolutely necessary; of course, on days we have executive meetings or client meetings I'd be more than happy to dress up, but for the rest of the time I'd like to keep cool". Then she can respond and you can see what she says. If she doesn't agree with you, then you know you're dealing with a manager who cares more about appearances than results, and you can proceed appropriately (such managers tend to have fairly quick turnover times of their subordinates, if you get my gist).

As for the other things you mentioned: As a software engineer, $31k/yr is super duper underpaid, especially if you're in the USA (I presume you are). You should definitely be looking for a new job based on that alone, regardless of the situation with your new manager. You may also want to raise the money issue with your manager when discussing business casual clothes: "Based on my salary, I will not have enough money to acquire the clothing you are asking me to wear. Can the company provide me a subsidy to accommodate this request?" And then once again, see what she says.

  • 1
    I'd just like to say, although the $31k/year is indeed underpaid, trying to negotiate that while the boss thinks you're insubordinate isn't the best plan. Either leave for a better salary, or wait until the clothes/dress-code/insubordination issue is resolved in a manner that leaves a good impression on the manager. I have a hard time imagining a manager thinking, 'Geez, Employee X is insubordinate!' and then being receptive to a large salary increase. – Kevin Jan 9 at 21:03
  • Yeah, I was more going for the "leave for a better salary" half of that response. – Ertai87 Jan 10 at 15:12
0

Is this a battle I shouldn't even try fighting?

Yes! This is absolutely a battle that you cannot win. Even if you could win it, consider the damage you'd do to your relationship with your manager. If you're not familiar with the concept of a Pyhrric victory, you should be.

Should I go out and buy business-casual wear,

Yes! Go out and buy some nice clothes and get used to wearing them. The whole point of business casual is to provide increased level of comfort while still looking presentable, and it gives you a fair amount of latitude. In your case, though, you should skip the polo shirts and golf shirts and go for short-sleeve, no-iron, button-down shirts. Get several pairs of nice slacks that are a few notches above the typical denim-by-another-color Dockers.

Your goal here should be to show your manager that you've accepted her decision and are 110% on board with the program. You'll do that by exceeding her expectations in your manner of dress, not by doing the bare minimum that you need to comply.

be hot and uncomfortable, just to sit where no one sees me and program?

If you're sitting off in the corner and not interacting with your coworkers on a regular basis, you're doing it wrong. Programming is a highly social endeavor that requires lots of communication. You're not going to get anywhere in your career if you're invisible, so get out there and talk to people.

You're also seriously overreacting to the imagined burden of dressing nicely, and perhaps underestimating the potential benefits. There's a well known saying: clothes make the man. There's a lot of truth to that -- if you dress like a kid in high school, people will see you that way and treat you that way. Not only that, you'll feel like a kid and expect to be treated that way. If you can keep an open mind, you might find that you actually like the way it feels to dress like an adult and have other people see you in that light.

I don't have the social elegance or manipulation skills that my boss has, and am unable to effectively communicate with her on points she is set on.

You said yourself that your manager has been very helpful and motivational. This is someone who knows how to create an impression and how to communicate effectively. You can learn to have social elegance and effective communication skills by watching her and taking her advice. If she says that upgrading your wardrobe will make you more presentable, you should listen.

I only make $31k/y doing this work

Your current pay has nothing to do with any of this. Would you like to make more than $31K/year at some point? Start dressing like the person you want to be -- you'll be amazed at how it changes the impression that you make on people, most especially your manager.

  • 10
    "Start dressing like the person you want to be..." Don't tell him that. Dress code can be highly dependent on the location and the culture of the company. In my area for instance, web developers will wear shorts and flip flops to go to work and usually make three to four times as much. That being said, he does need to adapt to the situation he's currently in. And until he can better his skills, switch company or location, and get a better job, he does need to comply with the manager's rules, and only speak to her privately one-on-one and out of earshot if he has any issue about her rules. – Stephan Branczyk Aug 28 '16 at 20:02
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    @StephanBranczyk Yes, dress code does depend on the work environment, and the OP's manager just made some changes in that respect. I didn't mean that you should start wearing old Bermuda shorts and sandals if you want to be someone retires to Key West. I meant that the OP should consider what kind of image he needs get to the next level, particularly in his manager's eyes, and start projecting that image. – Caleb Aug 28 '16 at 21:03
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    @Caleb Programming is a highly social endeavour if you are working in a team. If you are a solo developer, being treated like a code monkey and given thou shalt commands from upon high, it can be an incredibly lonely and isolating experience. Please don't tell people they are 'doing it wrong' when you have no idea about their complete situation. We are all fighting hard to dispel the perception that programmers are neanderthals who lurk in coding caverns, but the reality is we are still treated like than by many non-programmers. – Mark Booth Aug 31 '16 at 16:01
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    I would argue that clothes do not make the man. The man makes the man. In this case I would argue that this battle is not worth fighting but the best team I have worked with dressed in shorts and t-shirts. They were nothing but professional and skilled. Nothing about what the OP says they wore indicates they were not dressing like an adult. – Christy Apr 10 '17 at 8:53
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    @Christy Please read again. I didn't say that clothes make the man is entirely or exclusively true, only that there's "a lot of truth to that." I didn't say OP isn't dressing like an adult, only that "if you dress like a kid in high school, people will see you that way and treat you that way." It should be obvious that how your appearance is perceived depends on context; what's appropriate on Wall St. may be out of place in Silicon Valley. The OP's context changed with the arrival of the new boss; my point is that the OP needs to adapt to that new reality. – Caleb Apr 10 '17 at 12:56
-1

When you were hired did they inform you about dressing code? If they have and that has not changed you can complaint about it to HR. Managers are supposed to enforce company policies not come up with their own.

  • Dress codes are not immutable. I once worked in an office where there was still a great deal of resentment for a dress code that had been instituted 6 months prior. – arp Apr 9 '18 at 21:13
-4

You run the risk of being called insubordinate again, and this time you might deserve it more, but see if your colleagues feel the same way and will back you up. This needs to be face to face, not just you saying, "Everyone else agrees with me." It is easier to disregard a single employee who grumbles about the new policy than the entire team.

  • This will probably result in being the squeaky wheel not getting the grease but getting tossed out. – MikeP Aug 27 '16 at 16:21
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    This is a terrible idea. You wouldn't just run the risk of being called insubordinate, you would actually be insubordinate. And to what end? So that you could continue wearing t-shirts instead of polo shirts? – Caleb Aug 28 '16 at 17:35
-4

Be grateful that the new boss didn't say to be sharp business, with a full button-down shirt, sleeves, and a tie.

A new boss (who is their boss's employee) wants to make a good impression on management. They also want to assert their dominance over their subordinates. (Especially if they are Type-A, and Theory X.)
When getting a new boss, always do what they want (e.g. hours, clothing) to start with without complaint. Support them. Help them find the copier, restroom, mailroom, etc.

Be a suck-up, be a brown-nose. Bosses like that. After a while, they likely will fall in line with the corporate culture.

I worked in an environment where business casual was the undocumented policy, however, people wore shorts in the summer. One guy had been there a long time, and wore shorts every day. New managers were told to not mention that to them (they were amazing at their job).

  • 1
    Personally, if I had to suck up to such a boss, I would only do so long enough to find another job. I don't have any interest in working for a Theory X boss. – stannius Jan 8 at 17:17
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    Second paragraph, worst advice I've read her, period. – Hans Janssen Jan 10 at 13:26

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