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Don’t Let Your Team Get Away With This

I had a great question this week in the “Profit Club” forum from a health business owner who has employed a therapist with a number of facial piercings. In the job interview the applicant said that he would happily remove the piercings for each shift – but as time has gone on – this has not happened and the business owner is feeling a little uncomfortable about the situation.

This leads me to the area of employee terms and conditions – and is something that all business owners must be aware of. In the case above I felt that the employer was not strong enough at the initial interview and should have made it very clear to the “pierced therapist” that one of the terms of employment is that all piercings MUST be removed before each and every shift.

The longer this goes on – the more uncomfortable it becomes and the more difficult it is to fix – we all know the time of maximal compliance from a team member is in their initial training period – so this is the time you must stand your ground and jump on any behaviour that don’t fit your business model.

I had a therapist once who started wearing a different colour pants to my uniform policy – mistakenly I let it slide – so that 6 months later when it really started to bug me – it was very difficult to correct. If I had have said something on day one – this would not have become an issue.

The key is to draw your lines in the sand, be clear with all new employees the terms and conditions of the position and be quick to correct any deviations from the terms and conditions you have clearly laid down.

What chance have you got of enforcing more obvious “business killers” from your team -such as rebooking procedures, making follow up calls, or refusing to give credit – if you can’t even get them to wear the correct uniform – or remove facial piercings.

I welcome your comment on this topic

Paul Wright



15 thoughts on “Don’t Let Your Team Get Away With This

  1. Susan Hinchey

    I have a therapist who refuses to wear deodorant – he’s vegetarian, etc., so refuses to ‘put anything chemical on or in his body’. His body odour was not obvious at the interview, nor in the early stages of his employment, however now the weather is warming up and because he’s been here for several months and is getting quite booked up, his body is becoming quite offensive and obvious.
    Is this a sackable offence? Do you want to , after the time and training put into getting him established??

  2. Sarah Kelly

    As a “pierced” professional I find this somewhat offensive. In this day and age piercings, tattoos and other forms of individualism are part of every day life. The public accepts this. I personally have nothing more than a small nose stud and I think it is ridiculous to say this implies that this could degrade from a persons professionalism.

  3. Rhiannon Whitehead

    As a professional with a number of facial piercings myself, i find it strange that in this day and age that a business owner would even consider asking a staff member to remove any piercings, and i find it laughable that this could be considered a ‘business killer’.
    I have been in my industry, in a very upmarket establishment, for ten years with no discrimination in any way shape or form from my employers or clients alike.

    Piercings and/or tattoos are not a measure of professional ability.

    1. mdhpadmin Post author

      HI All,

      I expected to receive replies from some health professionals along similar lines – so this was not unexpected – but let me make a few things very clear:

      Firstly – I have no issue with people doing whatever they like to their skin, hair, body etc as long as it does not impact on the success of the business that I have spent a large part of my life building up. If just one potential client feels at all uncomfortable about the appearance of a team member – and does not re-book or follow up a treatment plan – then this becomes an issue for me – as it had an impact on my business success.

      Secondly – when the writer of the above reply has their own health business – has to put their own money and time into the business startup – and then employ team members that fit the image they want to create – then I think their thought process would change as soon as any potential client was lost to the business due to a team members decision on “body art”.

      Thirdly – at no time in my comments on this topic have I mentioned anything about piercings being a measure of professional ability. You may be the best professional there is in your field – but “first impression” counts for everything – especially in the competitive world of health care. You need to do whatever you can to encourage potential patients to come and see you – and if the image of you on your website turns off some potential clients – then you are just making things harder for yourself and your employer.

      Finally – let’s get real and cut to the chase – if the majority of people are in the process of selecting the brain surgeon to perform the operation that they needed to save their lives ( or their childs life ) – would it make a difference what each potential surgeon looked like?

      Who would you choose if you have the option of:

      a) The typical clean cut, suit wearing, surgeon.


      b) The facial pierced, blue haired, jeans wearing surgeon.

      Now I know I have exaggerated the options for effect – but come on – we all know the answer to the question.

      Note- the key words in the above question are “the majority of people” – not what YOU would do – because YOU are NOT your customer.

      I welcome your comments.

      Paul Wright

  4. Elizabeth d'Avigdor

    I agree with you on one level Paul, and strongly disagree on another. I agree that clean and neat presentation is important; I do not however equate uniformity with professionalism. To me I like the idea that I might be dealing with a person who can think outside the square (especially anybody formally trained in orthodox medicine!) and bring a bit of themselves into their dealings with me. I am impressed more by how a person demonstrates their thinking; I don’t particularly admire facial piercings but it actually does not turn me off what they have to say. And while we may be practitioners we are also customers at some time or another so I think we are quite able to have a perspective on this. I would never ask someone to remove a piercing to conform with my idea of what people out there will like and not like. And why on earth would you want someone to wear conservative clothing as a measure of uniformity? You can’t be all things to all people, and shouldn’t pretend to be either; there is a manipulative attitude in there somewhere. This comes close to thinking a white coat is a guarantee of professionalism, education and effectiveness. Far from it! Piercings may indeed be confrontational to one generation and yet totally acceptable and in fact meaningful to another. So who are you trying to impress most?

  5. Marcia

    Paul you are absolutely right. As a business professional, first impressions are EVERYTHING. Facial piercings are very unattractive and when you work at McDonalds, you are required to remove them (a great business role model we all know about). In my personal opinion, facial piercings represent the message ‘I don’t value myself or my appearance’. We all know about the law of attraction – we attract ‘like’ people to us. Who do you want to attract to your business? Most patients/clients won’t say anything and simply don’t return because they cant relate to the minority with piercings. Piercings are also a health issue and attract germs. More than that, health professionals also know that the lead used in many of these ‘rings’ are harmful to the body (like amalgam in fillings) which have been proven to be linked to cancer. Therefore as a business owner, you could potentially be jeopardizing the standard you have created for your business in your industry. Every business has the right to set their own rules/regulations and if you join as a staff member with the awareness of the company policy, you need to adhere to the rules or leave – not start a campaign that you are being victimized or discriminated against! No one is saying that people with piercings aren’t nice people so get over yourself and stop playing the poor me drama game. No one wants to listen!

  6. Tracy Woodward

    Okay then, a reply from a HEALTH PROFESSIONAL business owner who, in partnership with her husband, a physiotherapist also, has built up two thriving practices and employs a number of staff including physiotherapists, masseurs and office administrators.

    If a client does not re-book because they are uncomfortable with how our physiotherapists look, that is not the sort of client we are sad to lose or the sort of clients we need. What matters to us as health professionals and as small business owners is that our staff are ethical, honest, hard working, pleasant to deal with, show respect for those around them and of course are good at what they do.

    We don’t pick staff based on their appearance. I found your comments extremely offensive but was not angry enough to write in until you hammered your opinion home again. Yes it matters if your staff look dirty as in unwashed and unhygienic and if a clinic has a uniform and staff agree to wear it at the initial job interview then they should follow through with that. However, piercings, tattoos, hair styles etc are all a form of self expression and do not reflect a sub-standard service as your comments about clients’ first impressions of pierced health professionals imply.

    As for your ridiculous comment about choosing a surgeon…I would choose the surgeon based on their credentials rather than the type of pants they have on. Charlie Teo’s brain surgery brilliance in jeans for desperate cancer patients when his colleagues in suits don’t dare to operate should silence this debate.

    If you believe tattoos and piercings give an unprofessional impression, please explain how both of our ever growing, extremely busy practices in Perth are surviving yet alone thriving with two tattooed principal physiotherapists and employees who are also tattooed, some with quite original hairstyles and one employee who has a tongue piercing. How? Because we are caring and very good physiotherapists and savvy business owners who are smart enough to know the difference between what matters to clients and what doesn’t.

  7. Andy Leahy

    Human nature is what it is.
    Your personal appearance and attitude do matter, if you wish to attract the majority of people.
    You can choose to be different by almeans but like it or not, it will have an effect on the maximum number of people you will attract.
    Your policy will need to be governed by the size and type of business you wish to run.

  8. Brendan Rigby

    Thanks Paul for your insight – my take on this discussion is that you are not making a ‘judgement’ call on the value of tattoos or piercings – yet just reflecting that many clients form quick ‘opions’ on your role as a health professional on the basis of your appearance. This is neither ‘right’ nor ‘wrong’… it is just what happens!
    As an owner of a gym which employs Personal Trainers and Exercise Physiologists – our appearance is being used constantly by clients to assess our professionalism… it’s just what happens!

    Brendan Rigby

  9. Clare Rigby

    I have lots of people in my exercise classes who have piercings & tattoo’s & wouldn’t think twice about employing someone who also had them – surely it would encourage connection amongst staff & customers? I often hear my customers discussing what tattoo they’re thinking of having next so staff could relate to that too. If an employee is professional, successful & really good at what they do & can benefit your business that will shine through any blue hair, piercings or jeans. If that surgeon was more relateable & I felt could do a better job based on their experience & knowledge – I’d go for the blue hair anyday. Can you imagine David Beckham not getting a professional footballer’s job because some snotty manager couldn’t see his talent through his tattoo’s? Personally I would welcome tattoo’d / pierced talent into my organisation – your staff will be remembered for their excellence & ability to stand out both professionally & physically.

  10. Robert De Nardis

    WOW – Paul well done for NOT keeping this topic in the closet, as clearly it is controversial. I am never one to sit on a fence, but I do agree with ALL of the above comments. Piercings, tattoos etc do not alter ones ability to perform a task. We all know that, i believe Paul was simply saying it ‘may’ impact on the initial impression our clients may have of us as health professionals. Sure, you can be clean shaven and be an absolute bozzo…who may well have made a great initial impression, but sadly a very poor lasting impression – and this will hurt you more than a tongue piercing.

    But I do suggest that as a business owner (as Paul was also suggesting) we are allowed to select staff whom we believe best represent the ‘image’ of our clinic. Personally, I compare our clinic and team here to a top line restaurant, you do not notice the waiters, they wear a uniform, they do their job extremely well and allow you to dine and enjoy what you went there for, the food, the service and likely the intimate dinner. However, if i went to a cafe in Fitzroy-id expect the waiters to be totally different – and thats why i went there to enjoy that component of the service. Both business’s could do very well as there are enough patrons for both types of restaurants. No one waiter is better than another…

  11. sharon edwards

    Certainly there are mixed views on this topic. I have just sold a large clinic predominantly physio orientated and we are located in a region of Brisbane where there are generations who would not tolerate an appearance of being ‘out there’ with tattoos and piercings. Although there is also a portion of patients that might welcome it and find it refreshing. Because its a business at the end of the day you do not want to discourage any patient from coming to the clinic. If the patient is rude, obnoxious and just makes reception or the therapist uncomfortable you might not welcome them back but if none of this happens its a business! You dont run a business to make ends meet, you run it to have control and to hopefully make more than you would if you were employed and to make the stress of running your own business worthwhile. The issue is you dont employ someone if you think there are aspects of them that might offend the patients you want to visit your business. If you dont want certain generations to visit your business then you might overlook personalities that present themselves a certain way. The one thing i have found, the way they present at interview never changes. I had one masseur that had very unclean hair at interview but was excellent at massage. I employed her. I advised her about her appearance, as well as the smell of smoke, and she did make efforts to change this such that they werent issues. But despite being an excellent massage therapist i believe the appearance issue was a sign of other non-conforming behaviours where she was more inappropriate with the use of offensive vocabulary and being overall less professional in how she managed and talked to patients. This also then affected staff around her making it a more unpleasant unprofessional environment to work in. It cost me in loosing one physio and unmeasurable clients before i was aware of it. SO non-conforming presentations often can mean non-conforming behaviours that may not suit your business. It might be fine for someone elses business.
    I did have one physio with a nose and tongue piercing, and they were very subtle, the bonus she was very attractive and well presented, good physio and great professionalism which made me overlook it and she was great with older patients so i got the impression they overlooked it too but its certainly easier for your business if they dont have a presentation that could offend, and if i had an identical physio without the risk of offence i would always go down the path of least resistance for my business.
    I will never forget though one massage clients jaw dropped when she saw one massage therapist with curly longer styled hair and realised she was having to see him-first impressions do count. he was very good as a therapist but you would much rather they dont get that shock before they go in for treatment as you want them to be comfortable in every way and you really dont always get to hear about it from the patients.

  12. Leon Labistour

    If there’s one thing to get folk upset it’s questioning personal freedom of expression!

    At the risk of being considered a fence-sitter, I can see both points of view but agree with Paul that the practice owner has to feel their employee subscribes to the ethos of their practice. Now if this means they only employ stuffed shirts with the personality of a parrot, sobeit as the replies show that not all clients judge by appearances and a recommendation from a friend who says to forget the tattoos because the physio is amazing, will count for more.

    As an Associate Physio, I respect the conservative dress-code of the practice owner I work for and ensure I meet her expected standards. In my own practice, I’ve chosen to adopt a similar standard because that’s what I would personally expect of a physio and think my clients would too (you have to go with your own conviction). It’s not set in stone, however and maybe I’ll change my mind as society becomes even more liberal and end-up wearing my biker leathers with that dragon tattoo I crave for my left arm and attract the hip crowd!

  13. Matt Sykes

    Surely context is an important factor here? Using Sydney as an example, the likely client base in somewhere like Pymble (conservative North Shore) compared to Glebe (progressive inner city) will be radically different. The core baseline stuff around neat/tidy, manner, skill, etc are universals, I would suggest on this particular topic, you would take a different approach depending on your clients – and the place you want to fill in the market.

    Then moving onto the place you want to fill in the market, this also is a point for proper thought – being the “progressive” provider in a conservative area will fill a certain niche, while being the conservative, straight laced provider in a progressive area will as well. The point is – whatever approach you take, you need to be deliberate, because no matter what you do, it will have a material impact on your overall brand.

    1. April Wilson

      Agree with the concept appearances can influence people, just human nature as said above – and agree yes it will vary depending on the culture(s) of the clients and the location and the business image. Never underestimate the impact of image and appearance though! That being said, the ultimate measure for me, when I present as a client, is the level of care received, the quality of care and the outcome – however that being said, it is the TOTAL client experience that one should take into account — as we’ve no doubt heard. If not too political here, I think that the term “individualism” for individuals choosing to have many piercings and/or tattoos, is probably a misnomer. These days it seems to me, personal opinion only, that it’s a bit more trend than individualism -!