It is a cruel twist of fate that a common New Year’s resolution to make a better impact at work follows so closely on the heels of Christmas, the time of year when so many wardrobes are freshly restocked with Disney character ties and socks and wonderful knitted jumpers from dear Aunt Jessie. Add to this the side effects of what is almost a month of overindulgence and very few of us start a new year back at work looking our best.
And yet looking your best at work really does make a difference. Successful business communication works on both a spoken and unspoken level, so to gain the maximum impact – especially in a client-facing role – your image should reflect and reinforce the corporate brand.
First impressions really do count – research has shown that it takes a further 21 interactions with someone to change an opinion formed on a first meeting. Even though wearing smart clothes and taking pride in your appearance does not mean you are better at your job than someone who does not, looking well-groomed will always convey professionalism.
Paying attention to the details of your appearance portrays a confident business image, and one people are more likely to trust and respond positively towards.
Dress to impress
The first and most obvious consideration is what to wear. This is a key element in meeting the expectations of the client or business associates. The issue of image is a complex one but a key factor is the so-called ‘triangle of influence’. This is drawn with its point at the centre of the breastbone to form a triangle, which takes in the head.
This area is critical since most people’s eyes will be drawn to this and it is vital you enhance it as much as possible. An unflattering hairstyle or dandruff on clothes will undoubtedly make for a hot topic for conversation – for all the wrong reasons. By contrast, a carefully chosen look in a style and colour palette that complements your features will help you to be taken seriously and respected by those around you.
Make-up adds gloss in the workplace
The question of make-up is a thorny subject for some businesswomen, particularly if they believe that wearing it potentially places them in a subservient role to men. However, research by The Aziz Corporation has shown that 56% of UK directors believe that women who wear make-up look more professional. Furthermore, 35% of directors say that women who don’t wear make-up look like they ‘can’t be bothered to make an effort’, and a quarter are more likely to employ a woman who wears makeup.
Beards are bad for business
Men are not exempt from scrutiny when it comes to facial appearance. Beards, it seems, are bad for business. The same research found that facial hair is regarded as untidy by 39% of directors, and a third of clean-shaven (and 17% of bearded) company directors believe that there is a prejudice against men with beards in business.
Even people who have perfect hearing rely on mouth movements to aid comprehension, and since beards may obscure your mouth they can make this difficult. Beards can also easily look unkempt, so those that choose to sport one should take particular care to ensure that it is kept trimmed and tidy at all times.
Don’t let your career go up in smoke
It’s not just a matter of looking good. The way you smell also contributes to how others perceive you. In the last ten years, smokers have become the pariahs of the British workplace. Having already been shunted outside to huddle in office doorways when they want a cigarette, they are now finding even the smell of smoke on their clothes, hair and breath is frowned upon.
Research by The Aziz Corporation shows that 90% of British bosses feel that smelling of cigarette smoke during office hours is unacceptable. In fact, reeking of the evil weed topped the list of bosses’ pet hates and was considered even more unacceptable than having tattoos or male employees with long hair. Smokers should be aware that even stubbing out just before they go into a meeting can still have a detrimental effect and they should consider whether they should be smoking at all during office hours.
Get attention for the right reasons
Whilst the area inside the ‘triangle of influence’ is vitally important, care should also be taken to ensure that clothes and shoes do not offer distractions either. No matter how powerful your presence, people’s attention will always be drawn to scuffed shoes, too many patterns or a garish tie. Many people have an innate sense of what looks good, but it may still be worth seeking advice from an impartial source. This allows you to explore new styles or previously untried combinations and offers a fresh perspective on the best look for you.
Look good to feel good
A good outfit is something that you feel makes you look good. But in a business environment you want to be noticed for your work not your taste in clothes, so whilst it is obviously important that you feel comfortable in what you wear to the office, your attire must also project the right image.
Taking care over your business image will not directly improve your day-to-day performance, but it will boost your confidence, which in turn will affect your interactions with others and allow you to command their respect. This is likely to mean you will be more successful in your job and hence a more valuable asset to your company.
Kalid Aziz is chairman of The Aziz Corporation
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