There's more than one individual who totally can nail the bald look, but for the rest of us, hair is a feature that has to have at least a little dose of TLC each day. Now raise your hand if you're guilty of that TLC mainly boiling down to a quick wash, comb and dry. The same way. Every. Time.

(Raises hand in shame.)

As it turns out, you might be better off in and out of the office if you take your hair care off repeat. Let's break it down.

What the professionals say

Amy Jorgensen, digital presence and consumer engagement strategy specialist, was curious about how hair affects a woman's brand and, more generally, her ability to succeed in the workplace. Looking at a range of articles and studies, she summarized her basic research findings in a 2013 piece:

  • People describe brunettes, who compromise roughly 90 percent of the population, as intelligent, arrogant, intimidating, mature and worldly, while people describe natural blondes (2 percent) as incompetent and needy. Redheads ( less than 1 percent) are seen as competent, but also as temperamental.
  • Individuals generally see others with straight hair as professional, clean and intelligent. They view people with curly locks as approachable, carefree risk takers, but also as unruly and unprofessional.
  • People associate the location of a person's part with cranial hemisphere functioning. Because people associate the left hemisphere with masculinity, intelligence and seriousness, left parts create issues for women who want traditional female roles. Because people associate the right hemisphere with femininity, visual processing, musical perceptions and memories of pictures, right parts sometimes translate to others not taking women as seriously on the job. A center part is associated with balance, trustworthiness and wisdom.
  • Individuals tend to see long hair on women as less professional, associating it with youth, immaturity, silliness or being a hippy. They associate short hair with intelligence, confidence and maturity.

Additionally, Midge Wilson, Professor of Psychology at DePaul University notes that, because hair is one of the features people use to make snap judgments, you can use it to stand out if you want. But society also influences whether a specific hair color is acceptable, and because others often want the attention or other benefits that come along with standing out, what's different can be copied and, therefore, eventually normalized. "If society is accepting of pink hair right now," Wilson says, "it makes us more apt to dye our hair pink, therefore perpetuating the cycle." In other words, it's about fitting in and feeling included in what the group does, whatever that might happen to be at the moment. Celebrity stylist Daniel Moon agrees: "A color explosion has happened and is now being molded into our lifestyle--as normal as [colors] can be."

Lest you think all this applies just to women, remember that there are plenty of men who prefer longer styles, edgier, spiky looks or strategic highlighting, too. And as this look at the perception of beards shows, men aren't immune to hair-based assumptions and stereotypes. Everyone has to deal with how hair influences impression.

What this means for you and your job

Hair isn't neutral. It gives off a vibe and communicates a message, whether you like it or not. But hair is also easy to change. That means you can manipulate the stereotypes and psychology behind hair to change the message others get from you. For example, if you're going into a shareholder meeting where people are going to want straight talk and quantifiable data, you might want to literally go straight with a left part. The next day at the company picnic, when you need to seem more personable and social, a right part with a nice wave might be better.

And don't forget, your hair influences you, too. You can get a confidence boost when you know your style or color is flawless, for example, and that extra confidence influences your behavior around others and on projects. In the same way that clothing can affect your biological functioning, mood and general behavior, your hair can, too.

Your hair isn't the only thing that matters when you clock in at work. But it does matter, and changing it up can be just as beneficial as tweaking your policies, office space or product packaging. Experiment, get feedback from others you trust and, from there, just switch it up based on your goals and what you're comfortable with.

Published on: Dec 21, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.