So-called “Casual Friday” can be more stressful than the days when the rules are hard and fast. Are all jeans verboten, or just the ones with rips all the way up your thighs? Is it frowned upon to peace out early? When that last-minute task pops up, can’t you just pretend you didn’t see the note until Monday morning?
Here are some tips on office etiquette to help you be as professionally casual on Fridays as you are professionally professional the rest of the week.
Never Take a False Step, In Three Steps
1 Know Your Company. What’s the norm among your coworkers? Follow their lead and you’re sure not to raise too many eyebrows.
2 Know the No-Nos. Some companies have official rules; with others, you have to figure it out as you go. If you’re not sure, ask.
3 Know Yourself. Be comfortable in your clothes and with your decisions. It’s important to be aware of the norm, but don’t turn yourself into a robot and suppress anything that shows your personality. It’s a pretty good guess that no matter how formal a company is, they still want you to be you.
What to Wear
The true solution to the Casual Friday conundrum: it depends. If you work on Wall Street, you’ll have a different vision of “casual” than someone who develops game apps. And on that note, some software companies may require button-ups and khakis, while others expect you to roll up in a Star Wars T-shirt and shorts every day.
Ask yourself: what is the dress code in your office Monday to Thursday? The way people dress on normal days should impact what you put on when you get the go-ahead to casual it up.
Even if you’re a camp counselor or work at a laid-back startup, there are a few doodads you’re probably better off saving for nights and weekends. For example, anything torn, revealing, stained, or smelly. Some offices frown on flip-flops, and others can’t handle a T-shirt without a collar.
But don’t forget to be yourself. As long as you’re comfortable and avoid breaking any serious taboos, you’re golden.
Once again, get a sense of the general expectations at the place you work. In many consulting, finance, and law companies, the expectation is that work comes first. Your boss pings you at 4 p.m. on Friday that she’ll need that memo before her court case starts Monday morning? You might be missing your happy hour.
Sure, it’s important to set limits and make time for your personal life. But especially if you’re at an early stage of your career or are gunning for a promotion, some sacrifices might be in order.
When facing a last-minute request, assess how important the work is, how much it gets in the way of your plans, and what’s at stake one way or the other. Then, communicate. If you have too much other work or you’ve got a plane to catch to your brother’s graduation, talk to your boss or send a note to explain. Sometimes the human stuff has to come first.
If the task can’t be put off but neither can your personal plans, maybe you’ll get lucky and snag some time on the plane. But, fingers crossed, you’ll get even luckier and your boss will say it can wait, and then sign the card for your brother.
When You Can Jet
Is everybody bent over their desks with expressions of rapt attention and deep suffering? It’s probably a good idea to stick around a bit longer. If you’re the first one to jump ship regularly, it’s not going to reflect well on you when performance review time rolls around.
But again, knowing yourself is important, too. If you have an important event, give yourself permission to sneak away on the early side, and if your boss is the needy type, send an email explaining why it’s important you head out early.
When you’re grappling with the right dose of casual for Casual Fridays, figure out the general rules of thumb your office observes and use your best judgment from there.
Basically, as long as you don’t pull a Meredith, you’re probably fine.
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