Pink Flip-Flops? How You Can Accommodate Gen Y

A baseball cap, a hoodie, rubber flip-flops, midriff-baring tops, miniskirts … the list goes on. Most of these items are viewed as taboo in today’s seemingly sterile corporate environment. But guess what: There’s always the occasional individual who wanders in intent on breaking all the rules. If I asked you to close your eyes and picture these individuals, odds are you’re picturing a millennial.

On the surface, this may appear to be borderline, if not blatantly, rebellious behavior. But let’s dig a little deeper into the issue so that instead of chastising or mocking attire that may seem inappropriate, you understand how better to tackle it.

I’m 28 and thus fall under the millennial demographic. Do I choose to push the boundaries when it comes to workplace attire until I know my employer’s limits? Absolutely not. I am a professional, and if I want to be viewed and treated as one, I sure as heck better act like one.

A fundamental reason I believe many of my peers choose to flout the spoken or unspoken rules of workplace attire is to express their individuality. But, at least in my opinion, this can easily be done within certain limits. I, for one, will never be caught dead strolling into work with obviously out-of-place attire — but at the same time, I don’t believe it’s at the expense of my individuality. For example, I still wear a nose ring stud because it’s a symbol of my Indian roots.

I don’t dress like corporate America. I dress like Deanna Hartley. And I’m happy with that.

Giving millennials an outlet to express their creativity and their uniqueness in various ways can help them feel like they aren’t being stifled. Allow them to decorate their cubicles artistically, try organizing talent shows for employees where they can showcase their individuality, or try out casual Fridays or themed Fridays (for example, wear your favorite sports team’s gear, etc.).

You know, when I wake up each morning, the first thing I do before getting dressed is to check the weather forecast to make sure I’m dressed appropriately. In much the same way, I think employees — Gen Y-ers included — should really take the temperature of the organizational culture to gauge what type of attire would be most suitable. So, if I’m thinking about donning bright pink Havaianas to work, I had better be lifeguarding at a beach somewhere.