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Are We Wearing the Wrong Uniform?

By Joey Havens

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Masked man in glasses expressing different emotions

One of the things I’ve seen in working with thousands of companies over the years is that we often dress in the wrong uniforms.

I’m not referring to the physical shirts, dresses, pants, or jackets people wear to work. That’s CeCe’s expertise. I’m referring to the imaginary uniforms we put on each morning to appear successful by the measures or behaviors present in our work culture.

In a recent brainstorming session with a leadership team, I listened intently as they discussed how late into the night they might send an email to each other and the urgency they placed on each communication. If I was part of this team, I would be scared to go to bed without checking my email.

Isn’t this the definition of chaos? The stress of this uniform of keeping up or being engaged must be immense. It is unsustainable and leaders have begun to realize the toll the “always on” culture is taking on their mental and physical health, their teams and their families. Imaginary uniforms have real consequences.

I was recently in another roundtable discussion with a partner in a large multi-state CPA firm. He was sharing how they reported – and celebrated – the top team members across the firm based on most chargeable hours for the month. To me, this misses the mark on so many fronts.

Chargeable hours are a common uniform worn in a wonderful profession that is losing talented people every day because of work culture. The chargeable hour uniform has negative implications for team members, recruits, clients and the profession.

No matter how well intended, it implies that efforts are more important than results. It also implies that efforts can be measured by time worked, which is another way of rewarding those who take longer to do something. It certainly doesn’t incentivize creativity, innovation or automation and frankly might reward your most creative timekeepers.

How about the bigger ramifications in that it implies leadership is more concerned with hours worked than quality of life, results and priority of family time? Does this uniform encourage managers to pass work along to others so they can grow, or to cling to the work and build their chargeable hours? What are the long-term implications of the chargeable hour uniform on learning and development?

When we measure the wrong things, they destroy our work culture and our teams.

What if we shopped for different uniforms? How about a list of the team members who were certified in new skills every week? Recognition for team members who helped others meet their goals? Highlighting those who exceeded client expectations or improved turnaround deadlines? How about praise for not sending emails at all times of the day and night?

Let’s be careful what uniforms we wear because they have real consequences. How are you dressing for success in your work culture? What are some of the bad uniforms you have seen in the workplace?

“Yes, CeCe, I’m getting rid of that old jacket and putting on the new one you bought me.”

Coming in 2023, my new book Leading with Significance breaks through the limiting barriers of common culture theory and demonstrates, with great transparency, the real human emotions that elevate a culture to one that is genuine, enduring and magnetic. Sign up today for updates at