Last Sunday’s New York Times included the story of a really Bad Hair Day. It’s the second story on this page.
Here’s how it goes.
A woman works in Hong Kong for a Paris-based fashion house. She dyes her hair bright red. She gets some compliments from her coworkers.
But then a few months later she gets a warning from the Human Resource department. In her words, the HR person “suggested that I change it before I received any formal warnings, and even implied that I could be fired. She said that either brown or black would be appropriate.” The explanation was that her hair could “affect the image of the firm.”
The New York TImes columnist, a/k/a The Workologist, said the answer was crystal clear: choose between your hair color and your job.
So what do you think?
The Workologist doesn’t mention the company’s location, but you inevitably run into cultural taboos when you cross international lines. A re-haired person might stand out more in Hong Kong than, say, San Francisco. And in some countries it’s legal to discriminate openly based on sex, age, religion and marital status.
The Workologist doesn’t raise the question of this person’s visibility. Is she publicly identified with the company? If you saw the movie about Vogue Magazine and The September Issue, you’ll recall that some Vogue staffers aren’t exactly glamor queens.
Most importantly, The Workologist hasn’t dealt with the role of the HR person. In some cultures – corporate and national -the HR person might be used as a go-between so the boss doesn’t have to confront an employee, especially if you’ve got a male boss and a female employee.
In some companies, a warning from HR can be ignored; the HR person needs to get a life. Butt in others the HR department is charged with maintaining the dress code, rules, ethics and more.
The Workologist comes with a disclaimer:: The Workologist is a guy with well-intentioned opinions, not a professional career adviser.”
Which is why it’s rarely a good idea to seek career advice from the newspapers. I’ve addressed this topic before.