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October 22, 2021

To beard or not to beard? That is the question… at least it is in the workplace. And it can be a bit of a touchy question, even in the 21st century, believe it or not.

As beards have become mainstream in the last 10 years, it’s great that many workplace attitudes have loosened up regarding the “business beard”. But it’s amazing that many workplaces have adopted business casual dress standards, but still either frown upon full facial hair or police it tightly.

Of course, there are a few industries and job situations where beards are forbidden, for varied reasons. But mostly, workplace rules about beards seem to be based on the bosses’ personal tastes and desires to control things within the arbitrary business “image” standards.

So, what do you do? Do you trim your whiskers conservatively short in order to meet your work’s business beard requirements? Do you stick it to the man and let your mane run wild? Or do you give up on your rugged dream entirely and shave, just to keep the peace and your job? 

The choice is entirely up to you, of course. If business beards are a problem where you work, it really comes down to weighing up how much you love your beard against how much you love your job. But take heart because times continue changing. The business beard is becoming more accepted as society becomes accustomed to facial hair and as untrue stereotypes keep getting busted. And we hope you can have respectful dialogue with your boss and remain a gainfully employed rugged bro.

History is on your side

Clean-shaven as the accepted business standard is pretty new in human history. Beards, especially the bushy and burly kind, were all the rage in the 19th century among businessmen, politicians, the gentry and also the working class. Heavy facial hair was a mark of masculinity, respectability and soundness. Even British military men sported beards as a way of displaying virility and contrasting with their clean-shaven enemies, the French.

The First World War started changing things because military gas masks were difficult to fit over thick beards. Then the 1918-1920 Spanish Flu pandemic banished beards for a long time, due to false information being spread around that they were unhygienic disease carriers.

When beards started making a comeback in the 1950s and 1960s, they were dismissed as a fad for beatniks and hippies. i.e. People who weren’t to be trusted by the establishment. These attitudes persisted in the 1970s and 1980s when mustaches thrived, but then the stereotype of “pornstaches” developed, and so clean shaven was seen as “trustworthy” and “upstanding”.

Breaking through those old attitudes has taken time, but it’s happening. Beards are mainstream now, including business beards.

The masculinity problem

Frequently, a workplace’s rules or expectations about business beards come down to one or two leaders, or a club of them. And there’s really no reason for disallowing/restricting beards other than those bigwigs feeling challenged and intimidated by the open display of masculinity, or the excuse that allowing beards will somehow lead to a snowballing drop in standards. 

It’s a simple fact that people see a bearded man as more masculine – and some managers and execs don’t like that and feel intimidated into flexing their egos.

As a result, many leaders have perpetuated myths about beards being unhygienic, scruffy, a mark of laziness, “unbusinesslike” (whatever that means), rebellious, untrustworthy, and on and on. The excuses have been many, but invariably workers have had to fall in line or risk not being promoted - or even losing their jobs.

Infuriating inconsistency

Sometimes the worst problem is when the boss or top managers are allowed beards, but employees like you aren’t.

Some careers are “shaved only” or “mustache maximum”

It’s true that some career pathways say no to beards. There’s not much you can do about most of those, especially if they ban them for safety or health reasons.

  • Military. Putting on some protective masks is harder with a beard, especially if they can’t seal up properly. Also many military leaders believe that clean-shaven is better for uniformity and discipline. Maybe things will change. After all, the Canadian military allows well-trimmed beards now.
  • Law enforcement. Again it’s about safety equipment. But some police forces allow stubble beards.
  • Medical field. Again, protective gear. There are plenty of regular doctors with beards, but some specialists have little choice but to shave. 
  • Food industry. Standards vary a lot here. But if hats and hair nets are required to prevent head hairs going into food, it stands to reason that bosses are going to be concerned about stray beard hairs. 

So, now that we’ve identified some of the problems surrounding business beards, what do you do?

Busting the stereotypes

  • MYTH: Beards are dirty. Too many people still believe clean-shaven means clean and hygienic in the workplace. Science has shown that just as many bacteria (if not more) inhabit a smooth face as a bearded one. 
  • MYTH: Bearded men are lazy. Cultivating a business beard requires much more time than shaving. There’s meticulous grooming, washing, oiling, brushing and effort. 
  • MYTH: Bearded men are “rough”. The idea that a beard is associated with sweaty lumberjacks or violent people is just ridiculous. Beards are everywhere now. Loving fathers sport them as much as anybody else.
  • MYTH: Beards are rebellious. And bosses think unruly rebellious employees are bad for business. But go to a public place and look around. Beards are everywhere. If they’re commonplace, they are not rebellious.

Change attitudes by growing a beard for good cause

Movember (or No Shave November) is a great example of how to cultivate facial hair and have it seen as a positive thing. When you grow a beard or mustache to raise money for important causes like men’s cancer and men’s mental health, bosses and colleagues are much more likely to be supportive and not see it as a rebellious style choice.

Why not get a group of colleagues to join in? Or even the boss? When they’re all in on the bearding adventure for a worthy cause, they may develop team spirit and some pride in facial hair.

By the time the fundraising is done, people will have become accustomed to your beard and you could keep it as a reminder of your success.

Dress sharper

Sprucing up your clothing to be sharp and classy can go a long way towards people ignoring your business beard. 

Does a business beard have to be “boring”?

No, it doesn’t have to be boring and ridiculously short. But you really should look after your beard well. Wild and frizzy is less likely to be accepted in many workplaces, while well-cared-for facial hair is fine.

Ensure flyaways get trimmed regularly. Wash your beard well three times a week with a beard conditioner shampoo. Oil it and brush it regularly. And give it some deliberate shape with a great beard balm.

Gender

Modern workplaces are having to adapt to different attitudes about gender and gender roles. Therefore, considering a beard is a way of identifying clearly as a man, it may not be cool for work to frown on your free expression of gender. Beards are natural and won’t go away.

Now, we’re not recommending you pick a big fight and use the beard issue as a hill to die on. Belligerence and conflict are not essential. Dialogue that encourages listening and respect is the better way to go. You’ll catch more flies with honey…

Should you shave before a job interview? 

Do your research before the interview. Ask the person scheduling the interview about beards in the workplace. And check the place out if you can, just to take in the general standards of the place and the look of employees. If you can’t visit in person, check it out through social media, including LinkedIn.

Overall

Our advice on a business beard is this…

  1. Know your workplace and its expectations.
  2. If your beard attracts unwanted attention, open a respectful conversation.
  3. Look after your beard grooming regularly.
  4. Look for ways to encourage bearded team spirit.

At the very least, The Rugged Bros will always support your beard, dude. Mad respect to you, bro! Beard on!