Amie Graham - HR Advisor
For some, the freedom of choosing what they wear to work each day is a joy – for others, it is just another chore that needs sorting in the morning! For the one quarter of workplaces in Australia that have a uniform for their employees, this leaves a considerable number of us choosing what we wear to work. So how do these daily choices impact your businesses and what ability to you have to exert any control over how your employees present themselves?
To dress code or not to dress code
There is currently no consensus as to whether dress code in the workplace has a positive or negative impact on performance. A casual dress policy can be offered as a benefit to improve workplace attitudes, retain employees and increase performance along with breaking down hierarchical barriers leading to a feeling of team inclusiveness. Conversely, there is also the view that casual dress can lead to complacency in performance as clothing clearly affects the way people perceive themselves.
Whether we like it or not, clothing does impact on how others view us. For example, those who dress in ‘smart casual’ can be perceived as the most motivated, productive, creative and collaborative team members. Alternatively, those who wear a uniform are seen as part of a team. Clothing can also determine how your organisation is viewed with more than half of 18-34 years old’s factoring in dress code when choosing a place to work. Let’s be honest, we would all be somewhat taken aback if we attended a meeting with a lawyer and they rolled in wearing jeans and a t-shirt when we are more accustomed – and likely expect – them to be far more corporate and dressed in a suit to reflect the business we are about to conduct with them. However, a mechanic in corporate attire is not what we want to see when we take the car in to be serviced.
So, the jury is still out! It is clear that there is no ‘one size fits all’ as to the content of a dress code but f it is indeed something you’d like to have in your workplace, it is important to ensure the guidelines are relevant to your business and to your clients. Regardless as to whether dress code impacts on attitudes or performance, you can decide how an employee’s personal presentation adds value to your own organisation.
Communicate your code
What should a dress code communication look like - pardon the pun! The easiest way to communicate dress code and presentation standards in your business is conveying your message through a policy. This can be outlined during an induction with new staff or updated and introduced with existing employees. A dress code policy should clearly outline employee presentation as an expectation of the business. It may also include information on differentiation between roles and care and cost of uniforms if relevant.
Any policies regarding dress code should fit your organisational culture or what you believe is acceptable for your organisation. Outlining expectations clearly is vital to avoid confusion and allows your team to have clarity as to the style of dress that is acceptable. Depending on your business, you may decide that the style for your business is formal business, smart casual, business casual, casual/informal or a predetermined uniform. You may also outline differing expectations dependent on the seniority or function of the employee. For example,
Your dress code can outline the type of clothing you expect employees to wear, and it can also direct employee accessories and the requirement to wear deodorant and so on.
It's the Law
Whatever you choose regarding your dress code, you also need to be mindful of laws regarding discrimination based on physical appearance. Many businesses may for example, prefer their employees to not have visible tattoos. However, you can only make this part of your policy when it is a bona fide inherent requirement of the job to look a certain way. Let’s say you own a fine dining restaurant… it’s absolutely fine to choose to not employ someone as the Maitre’d who has a large dragon tattoo on their neck which can’t be covered up. It’s also OK to advise that person – within their employment contract - that they must not have any visible tattoos showing because the image they present to your customers is a bona fide requirement of the job and their presentation needs to fit the image you’re seeking to portray as an exclusive fine dining restaurant. However, you can’t hold someone working in your kitchen to the same standard because having a dragon tattoo on their neck is not relevant to how they perform in a non-client facing role.
As the business owner you can and should definitely set some standards about how people present themselves at work, especially in client facing roles. Be mindful of imposing discriminatory or unfair / unreasonable standards, no matter how much you want to say ‘no man buns allowed’.
Email or phone and let us know if you need help as we can write, or review, your dress code policy, to make sure it’s fit for purpose, achieves its objectives and doesn’t get you in any hot water!