I was asked to write a series of articles for a local business paper, Buzz On Biz. This first article is an introduction–some thoughts about from where many business dress issues arise. I thought I would share it here, as readers may be familiar with some of these in their own workplaces…
“Paul, we have issues with how your team is dressing. Please handle that.” Employee Dress Issues: Three words that strike terror into the hearts of supervisors, managers, and Human Resources professionals everywhere. Dress issues crop up regularly, but no one wants to manage them; it is messy and awkward. Most employee dress issues stem from four causes.
Assumptions can be dangerous! When management hires a new employee, the managers assume the new hire understands what dress is required, because he or she came to the interview appropriately dressed. Employee dress codes should be discussed during the interview process, to make sure that the applicant understands what will be required. This also creates an awareness from the start that employee dress is a matter of importance to the company.
In the absence of a written dress code, reviewed and signed by the employee, a new hire makes assumptions based on what he or she sees others wearing. Taking cues from others who are inappropriately dressed, or from employees with a different position and dress requirement, creates a problem. Newly promoted employees may run into the same issues as the newly hired, and the same courtesy of explanation should be afforded them.
Dress Code Ambiguity
Found in an employee handbook: “Female employees may not wear short skirts.” Dress codes are rife with rules like this. Any parent of a teen will tell you that “short” is far too open to interpretation! Define short. Ask five different people if a skirt is short. Unless it is skirting indecency laws (My apologies, the pun was too hard to resist!) there will be disagreement. Lest you think ambiguity is simply an issue for women and their hemlines, prohibiting clothing with slogans or logos sounds simple, right? Does the horse on the pocket count? Is the boss’ shirt pocket monogram a problem? Do I have to cut the tag off my jeans? Creating a clear written dress code with visuals to illustrate both correct and incorrect modes of dress gives everyone a clear standard.
Inconsistent Dress Code Application
When employees feel targeted, whether individually, by gender or by job, for dress code violations, morale takes a hit. Maybe at the staff meeting, the men are called out for torn (or air-conditioned) jeans, but the women are not (That’s the fashion!). On the other side of the gender divide, the women are asked to tone down their perfume when the men are wearing enough body spray to disguise a corpse in the filing cabinet. Does anyone hold the supervisors accountable when they miss a trip to the barber, or is it only the guys on the shop floor who hear about it when their hair needs a trim? As they say, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. A dress code should apply to all, or to none.
Management change is another source of inconsistency. Old Manager never enforced the dress code, and now New Sheriff in Town is struggling. This is an opportunity for the new management to demonstrate leadership and an investment in employee success. Bringing in a professional to facilitate employee dress workshops and/or training sessions demonstrates both the intention to take employee dress seriously, and provides the support needed for success. Yes, there will probably still be grumbling, but no one can complain that they don’t know what New Sheriff wants!
“Tom looks like he slept in his uniform! That’s an embarrassment.” Employee uniforms frequently are a source of friction. Business owners with uniformed employees must ensure that the uniforms are appropriate for the job, not just “what the boss likes.” Comfort and safety, maintenance and color, all play into appropriateness. A professional to mediate the selection process can help. Employees who have a say in what uniform they wear are happier and more comfortable. That is a win for the employee, the company, and the customer.
Do any of these seem familiar? Or do you think I am missing some categories? Please let me know in the comments below!