Make us your home page

Let boss set the tone for what's appropriate in casual business settings

MIAMI — Summer retreats, casual dressing and summer time-off habits can be minefields if you make missteps. • Joanna Stiegler pondered what to wear to her company's beach party, finally settling on a sporty bikini that wouldn't reveal too much during the volleyball game. • "Even though it was a beach day, it was still a work day," Stiegler says. "You just have to make sure what you're wearing is tasteful."

For some, wearing a bathing suit to a summer work outing is more terrifying than prying off the office lush at the holiday party. But shun the event and risk no longer being considered a team player.

Summer traditionally is a time when workplaces and attitudes become laid back. But it's also when thorny issues arise that can impede one's career. Everything from corporate retreats to summer vacations to casual dressing can open the door to taboo behavior.

Here are some of summer's work/life traps and how to avoid them:

Dress code

During summer, some offices go casual or declare Friday the day to dress down. But participate with caution. Rosa Fernandez, an advertising account executive, admits to a misstep in the past. On one of her first jobs, she wore sandals and a white cotton shirt on a hot summer day. Her boss pulled her aside. "She said my shirt was see-through and that I looked like I was still in college."

Etiquette experts say almost regardless of where you work, leave your flip-flops at home. An Adecco survey shows 71 percent of Americans view them as inappropriate at work — even more so than miniskirts or strapless tops.

The recent heat wave has made casual dressing this summer more complicated. Wearing your jacket to a business lunch and arriving soaked in sweat doesn't come off as impressive. One South Beach banker told me he recently arrived for a business lunch at a patio cafe in a suit: "My client looked at me like I was crazy and asked why I had on a heavy jacket in 100 degree heat."

Even when casual dress is a policy, gauge your boss' lead. Shane Soefker, senior managing director of Cushman & Wakefield of Florida, says his workplace has declared Fridays as casual. However, he doesn't feel comfortable trading slacks for jeans and he's not really fond of his brokers doing it either. "We have lots of clients that roll through here and we still need to come across as professional," he says.

"Regardless of what you can wear, it's really about what should you wear," says business etiquette expert Barbara Pachter, author of Greet! Eat! Tweet! "Clothes need to fit, you shouldn't overemphasize body parts and casual doesn't mean sloppy."

Company retreats or outings

Work events during the summer come with their own set of tricky scenarios. Showing up at the company picnic in a revealing halter top or wearing a Speedo to a law partner's palatial beach home can cost you credibility.

Of course, snubbing the event or being the sweaty nerd in jeans standing around when everyone else is splashing in the pool can brand you a loner. Stiegler, an IT staffing recruiter with Signature Consultants, recognizes the benefit of showing social skills and bonding with a boss during beach volleyball or with a client during a company clam bake. "Some people didn't show up for the beach party and I think they lost out."

Pachter agrees. If the boss organizes a summer softball game, participate and be a good sport. "You never know who you may meet or bond with. The person at the softball game from another department could be the one who interviews you for a position months later."

Summer outings at law firms typically involve cocktail parties, golf outings and formal dinners and can be a trap for the unwary, says Vivia Chen, author of the Careerist blog on "They pose situations where you can not only dress inappropriately but also give hints of how you don't fit in socially." Chen's advice: Stay away from anything revealing and don't hang out at the bar alone.

Summer hours and vacation

When asked to choose the three workplace perks Americans most want in the summer, only 42 percent chose wardrobe flexibility, compared with 60 percent who listed flex time, such as Summer Fridays.

Many workplaces do shut early on Fridays. But Pachter recommends tuning into the protocol in your department before taking advantage. Head to the beach on a Friday afternoon when the rest of the team is working on a major presentation and you might as well not come back on Monday, she says.

It's the same for vacation. Every workplace has its own etiquette, culture and policies for time off. Take off at an inopportune time, fail to check in or leave your post without coverage and risk getting fired.

Most offices run with smaller staffs and frown on anyone who takes off more than two weeks in a row.


Finding low-cost activities during summer to keep kids occupied for your full workday can challenge even the most organized parent. But even the most generous boss has limits on bringing kids to the office or calling home too often. "If you get stuck and need to bring your kid to work one day, it happens and people accept it. But if it's every day and your wild kid is running around that's a problem," Pachter says.

The bottom line with summer etiquette, Pachter says: Be a team player and look to your manager to set the tone.

Let boss set the tone for what's appropriate in casual business settings 08/13/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 12, 2011 3:31pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rick Scott appoints 'my friend,' Jimmy Patronis, as Florida CFO

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Monday appointed a long-time friend and political supporter, Jimmy Patronis, to replace Jeff Atwater as Florida's next chief financial officer, making him one of three members of the Cabinet that sets state policy on a wide range of issues. He'll take over Friday.

    Rick Scott appoints Jimmy Patronis (background) as CFO. [STEVE BOUSQUET | Tampa Bay Times]
  2. Local gas prices plummet as Fourth of July holiday travel approaches


    TAMPA — Local gas prices are enjoying an unseasonal dip around the $2 mark just in time for the hectic Fourth of July holiday travel weekend.

    The price of regular unleaded gasoline has dropped to $1.99 at a Rally station on Pasadena Ave. South and Gulfport Boulevard South, South Pasadena.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  3. Air bag recalls, lawsuits lead Takata to file for bankruptcy


    Shattered by recall costs and lawsuits, Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. filed Monday for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., saying it was the only way it could keep on supplying replacements for faulty air bag inflators linked to the deaths of at least 16 people.

    Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. CEO Shigehisa Takada bows during a press conference in Tokyo on Monday. Takata has filed for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., overwhelmed by lawsuits and recall costs related to its production of defective air bag inflators.
[(AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi]
  4. Airbag maker Takata bankruptcy filing expected in Japan, U.S.


    DETROIT — Japanese airbag maker Takata Corp. has filed for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., overwhelmed by lawsuits and recall costs related to its production of faulty air bag inflators.

  5. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park


    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]