What Story Do Your Employees Tell?

As I’m leaving a drive-thru line, a guy walks in front of my car and is visibly miffed that the lane was not made for walking.

I muttered to myself at his rudeness.

It wasn’t a big deal, but I watched him in my rearview as he walked slowly and arrogantly in front of the vehicle behind me. I also noticed his branded shirt displaying his company and the logo-ed van he’d emerged from. It was a company I’d considered hiring, but in that moment I thought, “Geez, clearly he doesn’t care–why would I let him touch my car?” Again, what he did wasn’t major, but it left an immediate impression. I decided then I’d write THIS post.

Branded t-shirts or uniforms are often a go-to part of marketing, but I don’t think organizations and companies really consider the stories their employees tell when they’re not “on the job.” 

If they do something crazy/weird/illegal/odd/careless while brandishing your logo, unfortunately it links you directly to that activity. I’ve often had to tell teams and colleagues in the past to be aware of this when out (they called me the brand police…yup)–particularly at the bar. Yes, you’re of a legal age, but who knows what you’ll do after too many tequila shots or a couple Olivia-Pope-Big-Gulp-glasses of red wine? 

Much later in the day, reading through a local news site, I browsed over an opinion piece filled with vitriol and ignorance. I noticed a commenter called out that the writer had listed his affiliation with a group and felt that it reflected poorly on all of them. Honestly, for me as a reader, it did.

Initially that was the end of my post, but then I came across a Huffington Post story about 93-year-old Betty Reid Soskin, who is described as the nation’s oldest active park ranger by the U.S. Department of the Interior. It talks about her amazing experiences, but this quote about her uniform touched me:

I still love this uniform…Partly because there’s a silent message to every little girl of color that I pass on the street or in an elevator or on an escalator…that there’s a career choice she may have never thought of.”

Oh wow.

Employees’ uniforms can tell both negative and positive “silent” stories about a brand that most people probably don’t even think about. 

I’ve sometimes bemoaned the pressure of being a constant “representative” for my profession/job well beyond 5 p.m. as an African-American public relations professional (an industry that has had notorious diversity issues) to my mentors. I know people are watching every move or I feel the need to overcompensate and actively promote my industry to minorities. It’s a struggle sometimes — a logo on my back that I didn’t know I was signing up to wear. In the end, I count it a blessing. If someone sees the possibility in a path because I wore it well, that is truly a blessing.