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Workers Dressing Better To Hold On To Jobs

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Workers Dressing Better To Hold On To Jobs

Business

Workers Dressing Better To Hold On To Jobs

Workers Dressing Better To Hold On To Jobs

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The recession is changing the workplace in many ways. Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway says many workers are kicking it up a notch with dressier work clothes and more formal e-mails. Kellaway tells Renee Montagne that's because employees are trying to hold onto their jobs.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

One of the more poignant scenes we've been getting used to seeing in stories of jobseekers is a long line outside a, say, job fair, where everyone is neatly turned out in suits, hair in place, briefcase in toe. Some have noticed more careful dressing by those who still have jobs in the workplace. Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway has noticed a return of formal workplace wear. We reached her in London to have a chat about that. And Lucy, welcome.

Ms. LUCY KELLAWAY (Financial Times): Hello.

MONTAGNE: Describe for us the kind of changes you've noticed.

Ms. KELLAWAY: Well, I really noticed that something was happening when I went to a conference given by HR managers. And the previous year they'd all been looking really slouchy in chinos and polo shirts. And this year every single one of them was wearing a jacket and a tie. And I thought these guys were on the frontline - if they're doing it, there's something big happening.

MONTAGNE: When you say there's something big happening, I mean do you really think people are in fact starting to dress up right at work?

Ms. KELLAWAY: Yeah, definitely. I mean you see it on the train, you see it in your office. Even I'm sitting here looking really quite natty, much more so than I would have been, say, a couple of years back.

MONTAGNE: Well, we can't let this go by without asking - now, what are you wearing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KELLAWAY: Ah, I was hoping you'd ask me that. First of all, I'm wearing tons of make-up. I've ironed my shirt, which is really quite a breakthrough if you consider quite how scruffy I used to be, high heels, nice little jacket. Altogether I look like I mean business. And I think really what's happening is that all of us are trying to cling on to our jobs. That means that we have to be professional. And you feel more professional if you're not wearing the same clothes that you wear to lounge about on the sofa to watch TV in the evenings then.

I mean if you think back to where did all of this sort of casual dress come from, I think it was our obsession with creativity at work. And it was this ludicrous idea that if you were dressing in a more relaxed way you'd have better ideas. Well, I mean that is the worst idea I have ever heard. I think, though, the converse may be a little true - that if you dress smart, if you take a bit of time to dress, you're kind of psyching yourself into a work frame of mind. So I can see nothing against it.

MONTAGNE: Now, what does this mean for casual Friday?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: I mean, is it going to be out of business as well.

Ms. KELLAWAY: Well, I really hope so. Casual Friday was the most stupid idea. I mean either Friday is a working day or it isn't. I know somebody who is a woman, she's just been given a very senior managerial job, and she says her first initiative is high heels Friday, the idea that you look extra smart on Friday. I think I prefer that one.

MONTAGNE: Actually, I rather like that too. Although of course no one sees me. So what is the difference, basically?

Ms. KELLAWAY: Oh, you can always tell them how high your heels are at the beginning of every broadcast. I'm sure they'll love that.

MONTAGNE: I gather from your columns that you've noticed another impact that the recession is having on work behavior. That's a newfound attention to grammar in emails - a certain kind of formal writing that we haven't seen for a while. Now, certainly, you know, you're speaking there from London. So I'm not sure how widespread this is, but I'm curious what you're seeing.

Ms. KELLAWAY: Yes indeed. I mean I conducted a little test in my own email inbox to discover that the semi-colon is back in fashion. People begin their emails to me as dear Ms. Kellaway rather than sort of - yo Lucy, which was what they might have done a few years back. Much more likely to sign themselves yours sincerely than with cheers, and I think it's all the same thing. We really want to look as if we mean business. And that means doing things in the good old sort of formal way.

MONTAGNE: It has certainly been a pleasure to speak with you, Ms. Kellaway.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KELLAWAY: And a great pleasure to speak to you too.

MONTAGNE: Lucy Kellaway writes a column for the Financial Times in London about management and the workplace.

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