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Yikes! Wearing a bikini to a work function?

Your boss invites your family out on his boat. The company holds a weekend retreat at a beach-side resort. There are so many summer time scenarios where you just might have to don your swimsuit in front of co-workers.

What's a self-conscious hard working employee to do when a swimsuit is the uniform of the day?

Joanna Stiegler recently had to figure that out. Her company, Signature Consultants of Fort Lauderdale, an IT staffing firm, held a beach day for its employees. She went with a sporty two-piece swimsuit. She says many of the women wore cover-ups and the men went with loose fitting swim trunks and water shirts. 

My column this week explores a variety of summertime work life traps:

The Miami Herald

Summer in the workplace: How casual is too casual?

By Cindy Krischer Goodman
[email protected]

   Summer retreats, casual dressing and summer time-off habits can be minefields if you make missteps.
Junod / MCT
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 mini-skirts 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 I spoke with told me he recently arrived for a business lunch at a patio café 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’s 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 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.”

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