The other day I walked into my local coffee shop to get my morning fix. When I looked up into the face of the twenty-something male who I’ve said “hello” and “thank you” to many times, I noticed something odd. Both of his earlobes were covered with brown band-aids. As you can imagine in your mind, the shape of the earlobe is not necessarily a good match for standard band-aids. The kid had turned from young hipster to moron with goofy band-aid ears overnight! It didn’t make sense to me at first. I asked him what happened. He sheepishly explained that there was a new policy for males – if they have earrings, they must be covered at all times while at work. Looking at his ridiculous band-aid ears, I was appalled. [For full disclosure, my ears have been pierced since I was 18 and I do wear earrings professionally every day.]

The next day I went to my favorite grocery store and when it came time to check out I was greeted by not one, but two, young men with embarrassing brown band-aids over their earlobes. I mentioned to them how silly it seemed to me and what I had seen at the coffee shop. Predictably, they launched into an emotionally response, telling me how embarrassed they were, how unfair it was, etc. I told them I should speak to management since I am an expert on organizational matters of this sort. They looked at me like a savior and quickly handed me a comment card. True to my word I filled out the card as follows:

Dear Management: I LOVE your store and respect your right to set policies as you see fit. However, the policy requiring males to cover their pierced ears with band-aids is ill advised. You no doubt implemented this policy due to real or perceived feedback from older customers. I honestly applaud how much you value customer service. Nonetheless, while appeasing a very small segment of your customers you are openly agitating a larger majority of customers, embarrassing the employees in question, and sending a clear and unproductive signal to your future employees. This form of expression is very common and mainstream. In a few years, it will be as common as wearing pants. We allow people to wear pants to work. We do however sometimes feel compelled to ask people not to wear blue jeans. That seems basically reasonable. A similar approach to earrings might be warranted. Thanks again for running such a great store!

I handed the comment card to the two boys to see if they approved. The look they gave me said “if you weren’t a complete stranger, I’d hug you!” They watched in awe as I turned in the card.

My point is simple. First, organizations must be mindful more of the averages as compared to the exceptions. If some aspect of the workplace irks a small minority (assuming no laws are being broken, etc.) that is life! Trust me, get out of the band-aid on the ears business before the law suits begin so that when the dung hits the fan you can brag about how progressive you are. To react to very small minorities by creating a policy for everyone is unfortunately classic – and usually has horrible long-term implications.

Let me sum it up: Band-aids on your earlobes look stupid. Far worse than earrings. Get over it. Look out for this month’s podcast – up shortly!

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