One of my readers recently e-mailed me:

“My sister received some pictures of a friend’s wedding. The bride and bridesmaids all wore long, formal dresses. The groom and groomsmen wore khakis; short-sleeved, casual, ‘out over the belt’ shirts; and … SNEAKERS. It is very strange, given the ladies’ attire, and perhaps disrespectful of them and marriage. My husband has grave doubts about the future of this union. Are we over-reacting? I realize we are fossils and that weddings are more casual these days, but is the attitude toward marriage also more casual? The stats would say so.”

So does attire reflect how serious a couple is about marriage – or how dedicated an employee is to his job, for that matter? Different generations (and different individuals) have varied views on dressing for success. For many, casual clothing isn’t a way of flipping off the system; it’s just how they dress, often unaware their appearance may undermine them in certain work environments.

While some may agree with this reader, others might think it’s cool that this couple displayed their unique personalities on their important day, that the bride accepts her groom’s casual nature and loves him for it and that they share a sense of humor. Authenticity and humor are excellent foundations for healthy relationships – in and out of the office.

Focusing on what someone wears over who someone is doesn’t serve anyone. If an employee or co-worker, particularly in more conservative companies and industries, is not being taken seriously because of their attire, it’s OK to point that out in a compassionate way. But ultimately, focusing on results provides a greater measure of success.

Instead of judging someone by your standards, ask what makes a marriage successful to that person? Then support her in achieving it. For my marriage, it’s support from family and friends, open communication, therapy, consistent breaks, honesty, feedback and understanding – and role models.

Marriage (and retention) stats are dismal, partly because many lack strong role models for success. So the real question is: How do we support our friends/family/colleagues even when we disagree with them?

The simple answer: Remember that behind all actions are human beings who deserves honesty, openness, kindness, unconditional love and support. Just as organizations that support the long-term success of employees will ultimately be most successful, so will marriages surrounded by supportive people.

So focus on being a great role model, mentor and cheerleader to those around you. What results do you expect from your team? Ensure they fully understand how you measure their success and support them in pushing past their own limitations – one day at a time, one step at a time and one project at a time.

Offered with respect,

Misti Burmeister, Washington Post best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers