Who are you wearing?

Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

Whenever I see a city I once lived in making headlines or trending online, I cross my fingers and hope it's for something good. This was not the case this past week.

To sum up a long and complicated story, a missing persons case that has haunted Minnesota for 27 years came to a close early last week. Those in the local media went to work covering the breaking news and subsequent court hearings.

Well, most of them did anyway. A “gossip columnist” for the Minneapolis Star Tribune took a different route, instead choosing to critique the outfit of a local broadcast reporter tasked with breaking the news. The situation escalated, with jabs between the columnist and seemingly everyone else on the planet blowing up Twitter.

The whole debacle reminded me of a reader poll McKnight's conducted last year asking those in the long-term care industry what they wear to work and why. The results varied greatly, from specific-colored scrubs to dress shirts and pants.

The reasons for choosing an outfit varied as well, with some sticking to tradition (“We wear uniforms… I've been there 27 years and it's always been that”) or taking the potential opinions of others into consideration (“I want my client to be proud they hired me”).

The “what do you wear to work?” conversation brings up some interesting points. If someone is doing their job, and doing it well, what does it matter what they're wearing? Where do you draw the line from something that's casual and comfortable to something that's unprofessional and distracting for others? I may be comfortable doing my work in footie pajamas, but something tells me other people in the McKnight's office may not appreciate it.

Aside from clothes, accessories and styling choices such as jewelry, nail art and hair color add another layer of confusion. It's understandable to implement a “no jewelry” policy in a workplace where a dangly necklace and moving machinery could lead to disaster. But what about those bright (and trendy) hair colors? Would a bright purple dye job suddenly diminish an employee's ability to do their job correctly?

The issue becomes even more complicated in long-term care, where employees' typical workdays vary greatly from clinical to the administrative positions, and the customers (i.e. residents and their families) are quick to judge.

Long-term care providers have a hard job, with a million things to juggle and people to care for. You get dressed knowing, as the reporter bashed in the Star Tribune story did, that you may have a difficult day ahead.

It's time we think of work outfits as a another tool in our arsenal of things that help us do better at our jobs. Think of the go-to red carpet question “Who are you wearing?” but not in terms of the designer. Who is the employee you're dressed as? Is it someone a customer would trust to care for their loved one? Is it a person who is dressed to work on their feet for hours every day, providing comfort?

Clothes are more than what we groggily pull on before heading out the door each morning. Think of them like a suit of armor, one that you're comfortable and happy to wear but still expresses that you're ready to work. Is it time to revamp your long-term care “uniform” to help you be better at your job?

Follow Emily Mongan @emmongan.
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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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