Five Things to Consider When Designing a Dress Code Policy

Dress codes are one of those company standards that are never easy to deal with and seem to get more complicated every day. Terms like “business casual,” or “office casual,” leave room to each employee’s interpretation making it tough to deem what’s inappropriate without it being viewed as discriminatory.

Recent legal protections based on sexual orientation and transgender status are bringing awareness to age-old paradigms that could use a dose of evolution. If women can wear open-toe sandals, why aren’t men? If men aren’t allowed to have visible piercings, why are women allowed multiple ear piercings? Aside from the emerging controversies arising about physical appearance in the workplace, there are a number of benefits that come with implementing a company dress code policy.

Rules about what can and cannot be worn in the workplace can bring a sense of consistency to the work environment. Implementing an easy-to-follow policy can help improve customer perception and employee morale. Here are 5 things to consider when designing a dress code policy.

What’s Your Style

Employees initially tend to have an adverse reaction to a dress code because it can stifle individuality. This is especially true when you work in a creative industry. Unusual hair colors or visible tattoos might go over well at a design agency but not so well at an accounting firm.

Having a dress code in place will help shape the impression your company makes on your customers. If they see employees dressed in a way that represents the industry of your business, it will boost their confidence in your services and competency of your staff.

Define the Terms

A dress code requiring “professional attire” is going to translate differently to individual employees. Designing a policy that includes a definition of the type of items that are not allowed and the reasons behind it will help people understand what is acceptable and what is not.

Use pictures of outfits or individual items to show employees examples of what is acceptable vs. unacceptable to help create a deeper definition for workers to abide by. Words don’t always convey the point being made and utilizing actual photos will give an example of what is being said and the rationale behind the decision.

Make It Easy to Understand

With a clearly stated dress code, you will help employees avoid making inappropriate choices that could cause a safety problem, a human resources issue, or offend a customer. Specify the reason behind the policy. If the employees work in a warehouse, it makes sense that the dress code would require close-toed shoes or steel-toed boots to reduce the risk of injuries. If the employee is interacting with customers, specify how the company values are represented by the dress code and details on what is and is not acceptable.

Enforcement

Before enforcing the dress code policy, you must make sure employees have read it and understand it. Typically, the policy is printed in your employee handbook, and all employees sign a confirmation that they have read the manual and understood the information.

Next, you need to determine who is responsible for enforcing the policy. Is it the manager or the HR department? Discussing someone’s choice of clothing is a highly personal and vulnerable conversation to have and takes specialized training to avoid hurt feels and miscommunication. It is imperative to take into consideration the protected classes under the equal employment opportunity laws when considering religious headwear, hairstyles, or treating men and women differently to avoid the claims of discrimination.

When enforcing the dress code, make sure to reference the specific violations in the policy and avoid personal judgment or assumptions. Saying the wrong thing or insinuating an employee’s intent could lead the company into a class action lawsuit.

Unity

Finding the right clothes to wear to work every day and making sure the laundry is clean can be stressful for employees with busy personal lives. Being required to wear a standard set of clothing every day can save employees time and money. Steve Jobs loved wearing a work uniform every day, and chances are many of your employees will feel the same way.

Having the same dress code symbolizes everyone being on the same team. You will always have a few employees who complain, but most will fall in line when it comes to complying with the dress code. If employees point out areas of discrepancy or as a collective find that sections of the dress code policy are irrelevant, make sure to listen, ask for suggestions and be willing to update policies to ensure compliance.

In conclusion, different employees will have varying interpretations as to what fashion is acceptable in the workplace. It is important to design the dress code policy to be clear about what is unacceptable attire to wear to work and why. Listening to employees questions and concerns about the current dress code will help them feel heard and more likely to follow the rules.

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