I'll just do it myself
"You've got to help me. You've just got to. I really need your advice," a breathless Ellen said to me on the phone. She then proceeded to tell me about a situation involving a newly hired administrative assistant and the style of clothing she chooses to wear to work.
Ellen launched into an account of how the employee came to be hired, what her duties are, and how she doesn't seem to be living up to expectations due to her unprofessional attire. "You've got experience in saying all those hard things to people from your days of being a hospital CEO for so many years. Any ideas?"
After hearing Ellen tell me about the very young, in-her-20s individual hired several weeks ago for a key administrative assistant position, it was dismaying to hear about the challenges this young gal was causing due to her choice of attire (skirts too short, blouses too low-cut, bologna-skintight garments, and bangly-dangly jewelry that was noisy on desk surfaces and while clicking away on the computer).
"There are consultants for this," I reply. "Truly. There are actual consultants who will send in experienced hands to have that dreaded conversation with employees about any topic — attire, bad breath, cigarette smell, too much makeup, and so on. All you have to do is call in the professional who will meet with your Ms. Out-of-Uniform to have the tough conversation with her. You don't have to do anything."
There was an uncharacteristic silence on the other end of the line. To my, "Are you still there?" question, Ellen slowly responded, "You're kidding. That's not real. Tell me you're just making this up."
I say, "No, I'm not making that up. There are really experts out there whom you can hire to do this."
Ellen's incredulity got the best of her. "You mean that people will pay good money for a so-called expert to come into your own organization and tell someone her attire isn't professional? I've heard everything. Well, I'm not going to do that. I'm just going to have a talk with the person on my own. How cowardly can you get? Besides, I'd be the one that needs to continue a working relationship. I can see it now: The consultant comes in, tells the gal that her attire isn't acceptable, and then sends her to me so I have to tell her what is acceptable, meaning I'll be stuck talking with her from now on. How does that solve my problem? Oh, you're no help. I'll just go talk with her myself. I might as well."
[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati.]