Keeping Up Appearances

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 17 – February 16, 2006

Since releasing the last Futures Ramblings I have been engaged in several conversations with people  who have intimated that they believed the newsletter was my personal vehicle for having a go at the company, its policies or people. Since I am now up to issue 17, and in the time that I have been writing these many employees have departed and joined Geyer, I thought it might be appropriate to reiterate to you all why I do this.

At Geyer we are very different, but the one trait we share with many design firms, is the tendency to get carried away with the ‘design current’. It is our passion, our driver –  the air we breath. Unfortunately, many of our clients are breathing a slightly different mix of air, and for them there are many other issues that they need to consider. Some of these can be pretty far off our radar as design professionals. The purpose of the Ramblings is to put these issues on the screen. We pride ourselves in taking a holistic approach to projects. In fact, our briefing process is designed to dig out the variables that exist in our client’s business strategies, brand and culture to enable us to create a design uniquely suited to them. So it is with the hope that we will create better design solutions, that I write these.

It comes as no surprise that Geyer, as an organisation faces some of these same issues I write about. It is also not startling to find that  that some of these articles have  hit a nerve with you personally. This is after all a company, and people work here, we do share similarities with the rest of the world.  However, please note (just like in the cop shows on TV) the similarities between these stories, and characters in real life is circumstantial. I will confess that with the exception of my comments about US foreign policy, and the competency of my home land’s ‘Commander and Chief,’ there are no intended secret messages. If you think you see one, well you are probably the kind of person who could see the face of Jesus in a tortilla, and saw great meaning in Paul McCartney being barefoot in the photo on in the ‘Abby Road’ album cover.

It’s about the issues that businesses face, nothing more.

It  is intended as an internal publication,  but I do send it to my husband, my brother and a special few people who I believe can stomach my sarcasm and I hope they are the kind of people who will take it in the spirit it is intended. Therefore, the idea of you, a client or my brother reading these and formulating some opinion on Geyer is an interesting offshoot. Should I now watch what I say because we have an appearance to keep up? After all it is not like we are like the USA madly scrambling around trying to keep the story about the Vice President accidentally shooting his hunting buddy in the chest from the public! Or the big developer in town who is always leaking to the Financial Review that the new hot client in town has committed to their building.

Communicating a companies brand values in their work environment is something we are very familiar with,  our reputation in the market for this is quite unparalleled. Where do you draw the line: the workspace, the marketing material, the people, their clothes, their hair, their behaviour outside of the office? We have all heard stories about people being fired for doing something in their personal life that was inconsistent with their public image. Poor Kate Moss, Hugh Grant and Pee Wee Herman. Personally I think that the ability to snort coke at night and still look good  is quite an effective  testimonial for cosmetics!  Since all of these people were being paid to represent a company’s image their fate is understandable, but what about the normal worker?

I know that a number of our clients that have instituted dress codes, to complete the appearance of their new work environments. They believe that this will encourage their employees to behave differently and I think we would all agree that clothing, like lighting, and space can influence  behaviour. Also, no one would argue that if you are in the public eye, the way you look creates an impression of the company that you are employed by. Unfortunately, when it comes to dictating appearance it is a challenge to know where to draw the line. One of our clients confessed they were having a real problem identifying the application of the  dress code to call centres where there is no client contact. Really, who cares what you wear in a call centre, except maybe the person that has to sit near you? We should all call our favourite help desk and ask them to describe what they’re wearing before we ask for tech help and see if this somehow changes our perception of their service. “ a really light, clingy, sexy, hardly even there – SARI –   because it’s damm hot in Mumbai”

The Sydney Morning Herald recently ran an article about women in China undergoing voice – alteration surgery in hopes of obtaining a voice with a higher pitch. Apparently in a business climate still dominated by men, a woman with a high, sweet falsetto voice will have better opportunities in China. Dr Yu Ping, from the People’s Liberation Army GeneralHospital in Beijing said that her voice clinic, which has only been opened for a year, is treating an average of 40 people a day! Even though the surgery cost hundreds of dollars women are willing to pay the price if it will give them an edge in the increasingly competitive job market. Chinese universities now churn out about 4 million graduates a year, so it is tough.

As many of you may know Andrew (ZAC) spent five weeks in South America over the Christmas holiday. He returned with stories of a culture obsessed with physical appearance to the extent that a common gift from a parent  to a sixteen year old child is some form of plastic surgery. This mirrors a program I saw highlighting young girls being told by modelling agencies in South America that they needed to have surgery before they should even consider modelling. The surprising part of this story was their parents allowed them to do it. I must be old school, because I believe: 1. If you ask your mother about your appearance the appropriate response should always be “ oh honey you’re fine just the way you are” and  2. At age 12 or 13 few people are very reasonable, which is why we don’t let them drink, drive or vote; they should not be exposed to people who would suggest to them that it is a good idea to have major surgery if they don’t need it.

Unfortunately the realities of ‘appearance’ discrimination in the work environment is wide spread and it is alive and well here in Australia.  Plastic surgeon Dr Warwick Nettle claims that ten years ago the average age for plastic surgery was mid 50s, now it is mid 40s. Nettle says “ I think there’s a huge range of motivation for seeking beauty, but probably a common motivation these days is to stay in the workforce”. This is what Shirley Dean, in her mid – 40s, and needing to raise two children on her own learned. She applied for 30 different positions and was rejected on all of them, even though she had the skills and experience. She elected to have a facelift to improve her employment prospects and almost immediately landed a new job. Whether it is from the new appearance, or the confidence that came with it, there is no doubt that appearance has a lot to do with today’s workforce.

Research shows that despite laws to protect against discrimination in the workplace, 85% of Australians think appearance and presentation is a major influence in earning power and success. Recruitment agency TMP International studies have shown that interviewers tended to make up their mind about someone in the first four minutes of an interview. So it is no surprise that the Equal Opportunity Commission of Victoria deals with countless cases involving people who have been refused employment, denied promotion, suffered hurt, harassment and humiliation because they do not measure up to someone’s ideal of how they should look

A national poll in the US showed public opinion was sharply divided on regulating appearance – from weight to tattoos – in the workplace. The most surprising finding in the poll is that roughly half the nation’s employers have absolutely no policy or regulation that addresses this complex workplace issue. According to the poll most of the employee claims in the past have involved direct – customer contact businesses like retailing, restaurants, and transportation, but they are  now seeing image or appearance – based claims in virtually every employment sector.

So it is only a matter of time before Geyer will need to deal with this issue, in our own workplace or those we design. We might get a jump start by changing out the bad fluorescent lighting in our lifts and loos that make us all look like we have been up all night drinking shots. If we do the same in every job we design the boost to employee confidence should hold off the need for more radical measures by a few years.

In the event that time does come, and you fall into the tortilla watcher category of people who reject my disclaimer, believing this is a message for you personally; here is what you should expect to pay for an appearance tweak:

  • Nose job: $1,500 to $4,000
  • Liposuction: $500 to $5,000
  • Breast enlargement: $3,000
  • Breast reduction: $3,500 up
  • Facelift: $2,500 to $5,000
  • Eyelid lift: $1,200 to $3,000
  • Tummy tuck: $3,500 to $5,000
  • Chemical skin peel and abrasion: $600 up
  • Laser skin surfacing: $800 up
  • Ear job: $500 to $1,500
  • Cheek implants: $500 to $1,500
  • Chin implants: $500
  • Brow lift $1,500 to $3,000
  • Collagen $200 to $4600

For those that reject my disclaimer and believe this is a message for our company. Well then we had better immediately draft up a policy on plastic surgery and permanent body markings. Of course we will engage Simone  as National Design Leader to develop a guideline on body art and size.  I would suggest we start by only allowing tattoos in grey ink, Arial Narrow text, and to limit the images to hearts with the initials PG on the inside, or just a simple elegant text tattoo that says Geyer rules.

Sources

Surgery for the sake of work

A current affair July 23, 2001

Dodging Unintentional Discrimination in the Workplace

By Kathleen Wells, Ph. D. BlueSuitMom.com

What a Waist: Why the Fat Deserve Equal Opportunity – by Diane Sisel

The Age August 4, 2002

Women Make Pitch To Land a Better Job

The Sydney Morning Herald February 1, 2006

The Bottom Line; Weight At Work; Obesity Has Become a National Problem. That Means it Has Become a National Business Problem  By Gwendolyn Freed

Star Tribune October 19, 2003

Public Opinion Divided on Regulating Appearance In The Workplace By Judith Bevis Langevin

Press Release Gray Plant Mooty

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