Work shirts and staff attitudes
For most of his adult life, my dad was an operating engineer for Sears Roebuck & Company.
During that time, he accumulated quite a collection of work shirts sporting the Sears logo. Near as I can tell, the company must have given him a few new ones every year.
These he wore with regularity and pride. In fact, weddings and holiday meals were just about the only times when he wasn't a walking billboard for the firm.
Looking back, there were probably two main reasons for his somewhat limited wardrobe repertoire. To be blunt, one was frugality. The shirts were free. And when you're the sole breadwinner in a house with 11 mouths to feed (12 if you count the dog), avoidable expenses tend to be treated as such.
The other obvious reason, though, was pride. He loved working for Sears. Actually, he loved just about everything that had a Sears connection. Whenever possible, he bought tools, appliances and whatever else he could at Sears. The employee discount probably didn't hurt. But beyond that, he clearly felt like he was a part of something important.
In his mind, the firm had helped dramatically improve the quality of his life, and by extension, that of his family. If any of his children were ever reckless enough to tease him about his addiction to all things Sears-related, they would quickly be directed to that last point.
I was reminded of his unique clothing preference while flying back from a recent trade show. As luck would have it, I was seated next to a person whose shirt made it clear which company he worked for. When I asked him about the logo on his shirt, he mumbled something to the effect, of: “Oh yeah, I meant to change clothes, but I was in a hurry to get to the airport.” He then proceeded to spend most of the flight immersed in a video game that could have accurately been called “Kill Anything That Moves.” Oh well, to each his (or her) own.
Now what about your employees? If asked, they will probably tell you they are glad to be a part of your organization. And yes, they would wear company-provided attire on the job. But what about when they go home? Or on days off?
Such choices might not reveal much. Then again, they could be quite telling — about your employees, your company and the culture you foster.
John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director.