Management Watch

FedStyle: How to dress for success

Washington has been called many things, but stylish rarely gets a mention. But that mentality needs to change, and young government workers should take note to rediscover what fashion really means, says Kate Michael, president of online magazine K Street Kate, who spent her early years in Washington working for federal and district governments. Here, the former fed and beauty queen -- she competed in the Miss America Pageant in 2007-- discusses fashion tips for young feds and gives advice on how to dress for success.

Q: What are some fail-proof business fashions for young men and women when they take their first job within the government?

A: Black, blue and navy are not a government uniform, no matter how much the city may try to force this into its drab "Washington Wardrobe" handbook. Actually, color is welcome, and appreciated, as long as it's not distracting or causing inappropriate attention. Note: Head to toe orange is odd -- on everyone. Every young professional should have a few well-tailored suits or suit separates to mix and match. Men look sharp in suits but can play power ball in pants, shirt collars and a variety of blazers as well. And if you're not feeling super savvy, let's leave seersucker to the more seasoned professionals in the style department, OK? Women, cardigans may sound cliché, but they are actually clutch. Temps in those big air-conditioned offices can be chilly year round, so be prepared. Stock up on well-fitting pencil or A-line skirts, pants, colorful but modest blouses. And my favorite two day-to-evening looks: sheath dresses and wrap dresses.

Q: What are some clothing items to stay away from?

A: In any office environment, the best advice is to stay away from anything too tight -- and ladies, too short. To keep your look polished and professional, choose pieces that have fabric of substantial weight and, while they can be stylish and colorful, do not attract inappropriate attention.

Q: Any colors that are perfect for a young fed? What colors to shun?

A: The standard Hill uniform of black -- or navy blue and grey -- is just fine. But who wants to be just fine?! I'm a huge fan of aubergine (or dark purple) on both men and women. Dark green and teal are other alternatives to boring blue. And remember red! It's patriotic and powerful -- one of my very favorites.  It wouldn't be right to call out specific colors as "ones to shun," especially if one's confidence can handle any hue. So, if you're unsure, start small by using accessories to add a pop of color.

Q: Is there any room to be creative when it comes to shoes and accessories?

A: Any room?! Creativity is just the biggest room in the house! Large jewelry can be distracting, but consider colorful scarves (now very in style), fun belts, interesting buttons or trendy tights. Shoes, handbags or briefcases and other office accessories are also an easy way to showcase personal style, but remain professional.

Q: How casual can you be on casual Friday? What are some considerations/pointers for dressing “casual”?

A: Some offices allow for jeans, others prefer slacks and tops in lieu of suits. I'm often known to say (again, this is for the ladies) that tights are not leggings, and leggings are not pants. Nothing but pants (or skirts/dresses) have a place in an office.  While it's fun to be comfortable on casual Friday, remember that you may still be required to attend meetings or perform other professional duties. No matter what your office's casual Friday policy, as an up-and-comer, it's best to keep a blazer or other meeting-suitable garment at your desk, just in case.

Q: Choosing from some our top government officials, whom should young feds model themselves after when it comes to fashion?

A: [Rep.] Aaron Schock [R-Ill.] knows how to dress well, as does presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Kelly Ayotte are great models for females to consider, especially when it comes to adding color into a woman's work wardrobe. Want power? Look to the Oval Office and the president's savvy suited style. And despite the incessant chuckling at her famous pantsuits, Hillary Clinton does always look sharp!

Q: Washington is rarely described as a Mecca for fashion -- some jokingly call the city, “Hollywood for ugly people.” How true is that in terms of fashion?

A: That term is as out of fashion as people claim Washington to be! In fact, D.C. is increasingly a style destination, not only for established fashion houses, but also for the city's promotion of talented local designers. But we can't escape the stigma until this next generation embraces their responsibility not to just get up and get dressed, but to get up and get dressed.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Jan 18, 2012 at 12:19 PM1 comments

Readers' reactions: Etiquette rules not always relevant

The majority of readers who commented on the recent FedStyle column on workplace etiquette seemed to agree that etiquette expert and international business coach Gloria Starr was offering common-sense rules. Not everyone did, however.

“I would rather have one person in an un-ironed shirt that knew what he/she was doing over 20 people wearing a suit that do not have a clue,” reader Chris from Ohio wrote. “The reality is MOST people place too much emphasis on what a person looks like vs. what his/her abilities really are.”

Another reader who had similar view of workplace etiquette suggested “some need to loosen up a bit.”

“Demanding strict observance of work-place etiquette, while many of us work at our desks, EAT at our desks (without a regular lunch breaks) and work through breaks (not talking about slackers), if strict observance of rules needs to be observed, it needs to be enforced across the board,” that reader wrote.

One reader who suggested etiquette training be part of young employees’ orientation shared her own experiences with employees violating workplace etiquette.

“With new interns arriving in the past year, all of the disregarded manners listed in the article have really reared their ugly head,” Cheryl wrote. “Some of the young women dress like they are going out to the clubs in their tights and 6-inch high heels or skirts short enough to leave nothing to the imagination.”

Although inappropriate attire in the workplace was a major lament, Cheryl said her biggest complaint was young workers’ sense of entitlement.“They all want to be GS-11s and higher with limited to no experience,” she said. “A manners class should be part of their orientation up being hired. It's tough to deal with every day!!”

But that self-entitlement gripe could really have its roots in jealousy, suggested reader Lilly, who said she had heard the same complaint from older co-workers. “Most younger employees are starting their careers with a B.A. or M.A., something which most of my older co-workers don't have, hit the ground running at work, and aren't as willing to play by the ‘good ol' boy rules,’ an unfair game, which everyone knows doesn't reward those who work hard but rather those who are willing to kiss up,” she said.

Workplace rules and etiquette also depend on the location of your workplace. What doesn’t work in Washington may not always be a deal breaker elsewhere in the country, a reader pointed out.

“Here in Alaska in winter, I haven't seen too many professional women wearing a suit, hose and heels to the airport,” the reader said. “And my department has detailed rules concerning use of government equipment during an employee's off-duty time, which are different” than what Starr proposed.

But what had readers going was Starr’s expectations of her own employees to work 14-hour work days, whenever needed.

“14-hour days?? Are you kidding me??? Obviously, that supervisor has no life outside of work!” one reader said.

“I can see this being true on some counts, but 14 hour days???” commented another reader. “Does this employee have a union? Or did they know that's what they were in for? There is something to be said for the expectations of American employees being set too HIGH.”

Additionally, Working Dad also pointed out that outside-of-work obligations may also hinder an employees’ ability to work late hours. “Your work ethic and performance may be as strong as the co-worker with fewer outside commitments, but carpool, train, family responsibilities, etc. can limit the extra hours one can spend in the office.”

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Jan 11, 2012 at 12:19 PM24 comments

Proposed pay raise for feds could mean more money for Congress

If federal employees receive a 0.5 percent pay increase in fiscal year 2013, as suggested by the White House – a number some called an insult after a two-year pay freeze – chances are members of Congress could get a bigger paycheck as well.

Although Congress has voted against giving itself a pay raise for the past couple of years, lawmakers could decide they too are eligible for a modest raise under the current formula, which links congressional and federal employees' pay, according to GovExec.

Unsurprisingly, this news didn’t sit well with readers, many of whom expressed their outrage over the story.

“This is a joke, right?” one GovExec reader asked. “Their salaries should be cut by at least 25 percent. Perhaps we should all aspire to be career politicians -- they'll all in the 1 percent, it seems.”

Obama’s Jan. 6 proposal for a 0.5 percent raise would be the first time federal employees have seen an increase in pay since late 2010, when the federal pay freeze went into effect. The proposal, which still need a congressional nod, has been met with mixed feelings. A Federal News Radio poll showed that significantly more considered the proposal an insult (50 percent) rather than a welcome gesture (9 percent).

What do you think of this proposal? Are lawmakers entitled to more money if federal employees get a 0.5 percent raise? How likely is Congress to deny itself more money?

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Jan 10, 2012 at 12:19 PM75 comments

Virtual firings: The new rules of the workplace

If getting fired wasn’t bad enough, imagine receiving that message in an email -- or even worse, in a video chat. But as the number of teleworkers is growing, managers are getting more comfortable with delivering the bad news virtually.

Executives get fired every day, but few of them make international headlines. The exception: Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz. In September 2011, Bartz sent a mass email to Yahoo employees saying she had been fired over the phone. “I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s chairman of the board,” she wrote in a message titled “Goodbye.”

Observers were quick to jump onto this story, debating who had been more wrong: Yahoo for not firing her in person or Bartz for throwing the company under the bus. An article in FORTUNE that highlighted Bartz’ s firing also discussed the new rules of the virtual workforce, saying the Yahoo board “should brush up on the appropriate uses of various technologies for conversations with management and staff.”

Although virtual firing could seem like an easy way out to deal with a difficult situation, managers must pay attention to how they formulate their message to the employee who’s about to get fired, said Timothy Kane, vice president of strategic consulting service at Dewberry.

“Ten years ago, the thought of doing virtual layoffs would have been one of the coldest, most callous things possible,” he said. “But I think that as we become more comfortable delivering all sorts of messages by virtual means, this is one of the things that will become easier to pull off.”

A manager also needs to determine whether the medium through which they are delivering the message is appropriate, Kane said. “That sort of event could obviously be very traumatic,” he said, “so organizations should think of making that as personal and high touch as possible.”

Instead of an email or a conference call, organizations should consider a more “one-to-one” approach, such as a video conference, Kane suggested. That approach will give some assurance to the employee that the focus is on them and not just a quick and easy way to get rid of somebody, he added.

Making that personal connection is key, whether the employee is teleworking or not, said Cindy Auten, general manager at Telework Exchange. Field workers or part-time teleworkers may not always be on-site, but managers should consider bringing those employees into the office in the event of a termination, she added.

If the firing is not a time-sensitive issue, the first option should be to have that conversation first in a “very serious meeting,” Auten said. “An IM or a text or an email should never really be your first choice if you need to have a conversation with an employee,” she stressed.

What are your observations on this topic? Have you ever fired an employee virtually? Have you been on the receiving end of bad news? And do you see this trend growing as more people join the virtual workforce?

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Jan 09, 2012 at 12:19 PM16 comments

FedStyle: Avoid these etiquette faux pas

Committing an etiquette faux pas can be mortifying for anyone, especially if it happens at work. But for young employees, a lapse in decorum could mean the difference between taking a step toward advancement -- or out the door.

Knowing the proper ways to conduct yourself could give you an edge in your career, especially if you’ve just entered the workforce. Problem is, many young employees don’t know the rules of conduct, either inside the workplace or out, says etiquette expert and international business coach Gloria Starr, who has counseled Middle Eastern dignitaries and Pentagon officials, among others. And if you ask Starr, proper etiquette is becoming a lost art. “I could grow to be 105 years old, and I’d never reach all those who need help,” she told me. Here, the manners maven discusses the top four etiquette faux pas to avoid at all costs, whether you’re a young public servant or a junior executive in the private sector.

1. Taking care of personal business at work. Spending a couple of minutes of your day to check your Facebook surely is OK? Wrong, says Starr. In the same way taking too long a coffee break or receiving or making personal phone calls, checking your Facebook or Twitter could be a one-way street to Unemploymentville, Starr warned. “This is a huge problem,” she said. “I think that younger people aren’t even aware of that it’s disrespectful and it should be in the ‘illegal’ category. I’d fire someone if they were doing personal things during business hours. When you send a paycheck their way, you expect respect and proper behavior.” Although Starr has a zero tolerance for employees doing personal things in the office, she says it’s OK for workers to browse social networking sites during their break -- as long as it’s not on their work computer. “On your own time, absolutely,” she emphasized.

2. Looking like a slob. You don’t need an Armani suit or Louboutin shoes to look a million bucks. The first step in looking presentable simply begins with clean, ironed clothes. A no-brainer? Sure, but Starr says many young people completely miss this part, which could hamper their chances of getting in on their manager’s good graces. Also, always putting your best foot forward pays off: First impressions are formed within mere few seconds of meeting someone, and one research team found it takes just one-tenth of a second to make a judgment about a stranger. “Because we’re so casual these days, anyone who dresses up slightly beyond baggy, wrinkled clothes would automatically be considered a serious, committed worker,” Starr said. “If I’m flying to the Middle East or Europe, I dress in a proper business suit with stockings, heels and a hat. Do I get an upgrade? Most of the time, yes, because I look deserving. Do I get better service? Absolutely, because I look the part.”

3. Demanding accolades and raises. One of the most commonly regurgitated gripes about the millennials is that they have an sense of self-entitlement unlike any other generation, which Starr says has tainted their expectations in the workplace. “Young employees are expecting recognition and promotion [early] in their employment, she said, “and that shouldn’t happen.” But that doesn’t mean young employees should abandon their ambitions. Those feeling the itch to advance should take a look at their achievements and then talk to their managers about how they can be better at their job. That talk could sound something like this, Starr suggested: “I’ve been in the company for a year, and I respect your judgment. Please let me how I can do more. I’m ambitious and would like to be honored with the opportunity to add greater value to the company. Thank you.”

4. Slacking off. No workplace is safe from the slacker who does next to nothing but appears to always be busy. I should know: I once worked with a guy who did roughly two hours of work and then spent the rest of the workday watching movies and checking sports scores on “Why are we rewarding that kind of behavior?” Starr asked. “You can look busy and accomplish next to nothing, but it’s about bottom line -- our government is broke, what the hell are we doing? Why are we rewarding bad behavior? Let’s clean out the problems.” If you want to avoid being labeled as a slacker -- because everyone in an office knows who the underachiever is -- work! It’s as simple as that, Starr said, but always strive to do more. As example, Starr mentioned one particular worker in her own staff who in her five years of employment has never been late, always comes in with a happy attitude and never complains about 14-hour days. Go the extra mile, Starr encouraged, because your employer will notice and reward you in one way or another.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Jan 06, 2012 at 12:19 PM20 comments

Nominate an outstanding fed for the Sammies

Know a top-notch fed who deserves a few minutes in the limelight? Now you have the chance to nominate a public servant whose exceptional contributions not only impressed their peers but made a difference in addressing the needs of the nation.

The Partnership for Public Service yesterday announced that nominations are open for the 2012 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, also called the Sammies. The awards highlight feds who made significant contributions to the nation, and honorees are chosen based on their commitment and innovation, as well as how their work dealt with the needs of the country.

Federal employees are “too often overlooked and underappreciated,” which makes the Sammies important, said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. "By honoring these outstanding public servants, we give America's unsung heroes the long overdue thanks and recognition they deserve."

In 2011, the Federal Employee of the Year medal went to Paul Hsieh, a research hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, who helped convince federal officials that the containment cap on a ruptured deep-water oil well in the Gulf of Mexico was working, which ended the environmental disaster.

Ann Martin, senior intelligence research specialist in the Office of Trend and Issue Analysis at the Department of the Treasury, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, whose work with Mexican officials helped disrupt money laundering from illegal U.S. drug sales also received top honors in the form of the 2011 Call to Service Medal. And a third winner, “medical detective” William Gahl who serves as director of the Undiagnosed Diseases Program at the National Institutes of Health, snagged the 2011 Science and Environment Medal for bringing together specialists to diagnose mysterious diseases for long-suffering patients.

All career civilian federal employees are eligible, and anyone can submit a nomination at through Jan. 18, 2012.

While you're thinking of feds to nominate, don't forget that nominations for FCW's 2012 Federal 100 awards program are still open through tomorrow, Jan. 6. Nominate outstanding government or contractor employees by clicking here.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Jan 05, 2012 at 12:19 PM0 comments

Millennials say 'no thanks' to 9-5

How far into the future would we have to look to see the abandonment of the 40-hour work week? Not too long, some say: With the millennial generation pushing flexibility to a new level, a movement is brewing to change the traditional 9-to-5 grind and give employees less constraints in terms of hours and place.

"All hands on deck, but at different time" is how communications firm Euro RSCG Worldwide predicts work will be in 2012. "Generation Y (which we call millennials) will upend the traditional workday, as the digital generation works anywhere, anytime. Look for 2012 to be the beginning of an era in which notions of time are divided differently, especially when we all know work nowadays is a 24/7/365 proposition."

An article on TIME Moneyland posits that millennials -- the generation born between 1982 and 1993 -- are changing the traditional work schedule because they want a different environment from the one their parents had. Employers have taken note of this evolution too, and many have launched flexibility programs and offer options such as telework. In government particularly, telework has gone from being a business perk to a serious consideration in times of tighter budgets. Agencies, such as the Office of Personnel Management, have even tried a results-only work environment, or ROWE, in which the only concern is getting results and not how, where or when work is done.

And what is there to not like about a more flexible work environment? For starters, personal branding expert Dan Schawbel listed these three reasons why organizations need to move beyond the traditional workplace and embrace flexibility:

1. Millennials say "no thanks" to jobs that ban social media. A report from Cisco revealed that more than half of millennial workers would choose social-media freedom over a higher salary when considering a job offer. Additionally, a majority said the Internet is an integral part of their lives. "Gen Y-ers wants to be connected to their friends and families, not just their co-workers, throughout the day," Schawbel writes. "Although some companies ban social media at work, other companies have embraced it as long as employees use it professionally."

2. Millennials pick workplace flexibility over more money. Nearly 40 percent of millennial employees would OK lower pay if they had more flexibility on the job, according to a study by Mom Corps. Employees feel they are more respected when they have a flexible work schedule, which in turn leads to more productive workforce, Schawbel writes. Also, "an employer that allows flexibility in the workplace also demonstrates that it understands the evolving modern-day work environment, which bodes well for the future," he notes.

3. Millennials are always wired to their job. With tablets, smart phones and laptops, no one is ever really off the clock, Schawbel says. A generation that grew up with technology and instant access to the Internet is rarely seen without its iPhones or iPads, whether on the job or off. And being constantly tethered  to technology blurs the line of work and personal time because "work e-mail doesn’t stop for anything or anyone. By no means does time away from the office equal less work getting done," Schawbel concludes.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Jan 03, 2012 at 12:19 PM18 comments