Why It’s Time to Ditch These Outdated Workplace Taboos

Small business owners should be open-minded and culturally progressive about tattoos, piercings and mobile devices.
workplace taboos
Tattoos are among the taboos that are slowly being eliminated in the workplace. (Photo: FXQuadro/Shutterstock.)

The workplace is changing rapidly and dramatically. Millennials rising up in the workforce combined with more casual expectations and the ubiquitous use of technology means offices just aren’t the same rigid environments they were 10 or more years ago – the rules have changed.

To help hiring managers navigate the new boundaries, we asked human resource experts about the top outdated workplace taboos to eliminate from your business.

Listening to music

Popping in earbuds at the office used to be seen as rude, disconnected and improper professional etiquette. Today, workers use music as a means to limit distractions in increasingly open workplaces and zero in on tasks at hand.

“It is still somewhat taboo to listen to music that others around you can hear. There’s nothing like someone else’s music to kill my productivity,” said Monique Honaman, founder of ISHR Group, which provides leadership development services to Fortune 500 companies. “That said, insert earbuds and it’s all OK. Many managers realize the positive impact listening to music can have on an employee’s productivity.”

Lois Krause, a consultant at human resources consulting group KardasLarson, agreed, saying that unless there are safety concerns, workers should be free to tune in to their tunes – and tune out the excess noise.

Dress codes

Tattoos, piercings and other body modifications used to bar even star workers from steady employment. Today’s employers would be crazy to completely eliminate a promising candidate just because they don’t look mainstream.

Rainbow hair and eyebrow rings may not work for a host position at a fine­-dining restaurant, but a worker with an unconventional appearance may excel in the pastry room or another back­-of­-house position.

In today’s anything-­goes environment, flexibility on wardrobe restrictions will help employers attract talented workers, while maintaining the overall aesthetics of their business.

“If you have a legitimate reason for employees abiding by a certain dress code, that should be explained,” Krause said.

“When employees have tattoos or piercings and do not come into contact with customers who may find it offensive, let it go.”

Honaman encouraged employers to model what is considered acceptable dress – whether it’s jeans and a collared shirt or something more business casual – and set clear expectations for everyone.

Personal cell phone use

“It used to be that employees would tuck their cell phones out of the way and only check them on a break,” Honaman said. “Not anymore. We are so tied to our mobile devices with our emails, calendars and to-­do lists that it’s no longer taboo to have a personal cell phone at your side during the workday.”

Permitting staff use of their mobile devices allows them to feel connected to the outside world during the day. Rather than serving as a distraction, phones give people peace of mind that their loved ones are safe, allowing them to direct their full attention to their work­-related tasks.

Working from home

Before technology advanced to allow workers to be connected anywhere at any time, rigid workplace hours were essential to creating a collaborative, productive environment. The rules have changed, and flexibility with when and where an employee works can actually increase job satisfaction and productivity.

“Create work­-from-­home options and flexible work opportunities for your employees when possible,” Leesa Schipani, a human resources expert at KardasLarson, said.

“This saves the environment [by reducing electricity in unused office space and eliminating long commutes], improves productivity and helps with work­-life effectiveness.” Tools like instant messaging, email and conference calls allow staff to stay connected and on task, wherever they work best.

One of the keys to running a sustainable business is being open to change. While you have to determine what works best for your business, you may find that increased flexibility on previously taboo issues will keep your staff happy and your business booming.

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