Here’s another guest post by RChilli on dress code. As they say, dress to impress
As much as people may like to think they don’t judge others on how they look, the reality is that everyone does. According to a Princeton University study, opinions of people are formed within the first 500 milliseconds upon meeting. Since employees are an extension of a company, it is important that they give a positive impression to stakeholders.
Industries often influence what is seen as appropriate attire; however it should also depend on the company culture and the expectations of the clients. For multinational corporations, what is seen as appropriate in one country is inappropriate in another, and could even differ based on the region of the country. Employees should observe what others in the company are wearing (or rather not wearing) to get a sense of what is appropriate dress. Even better, employees should look to senior management because as the saying goes, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”
The reality is that not everyone is good at assessing what is work appropriate, and since companies have become considerably relaxed about dress codes in recent years, there is more ambiguity. For women it is even harder because there are many more clothing options, leading to more ways to go wrong. When an employee dresses inappropriately, what should be done about it?
One option is to make the dress code clear from the first day of work, or even during the interview to give insight into your company culture, and to make expectations clear. Even companies that think of themselves as having an open culture with clothing likely have a breaking point. Having a dress code is a proactive way to handle inevitable confusion, and if an employee does not fallow the dress code, the violation will be rooted in fact rather than opinion.
If your company has a dress code and an employee is not following it, the best way to handle the situation is to have their manager pull them aside and remind them of the policy. It is very important that the policies are enforced evenly across the organization to avoid resentment and possible lawsuits. The gender of the manager should not make a difference, however in some cultures or circumstances it may be better to have someone of the same gender speak to the employee.
HRonline suggests that, “The emphasis is on the clothing, not the person wearing it.” Keep this in mind when talking to the employee since it could be a sensitive topic. You don’t want to damage your relationship with them, or make them feel like their freedom to express themselves is being limited for no apparent reason. Instead you can focus on how you are trying to help them with their career aspirations because their clothing choices could hold them back from moving up. Focusing on career advancement could also self motivate them to “dress for success.”
If your company is considering forming a dress code policy, it is important that the reason for the dress code is communicated well to all of the employees (such as a way to set them apart among competitors, to show professionalism, etc.). Additionally, companies may want to consider the economic effects it could have on the employees. It may be difficult for some of your employees to afford the additional expense, such as investing in new clothes and dry cleaning bills. Employee credit for clothing is one option to make the change easier.
Another option is to not have a dress code, and instead focus on a culture of trust in your company. Liz Ryan for Forbes writes, “You can build the trust level at work so that even sticky conversations happen easily and without anyone’s feelings getting hurt.” Liz suggests that if an employee dresses inappropriately, the problem should be seen as a mentoring opportunity because their clothing could hold them back from advancing in their career.
The challenge with not having a policy is that it is harder to have consistency. On the other hand, unless a dress code policy is very detailed, there could still be room for interpretation. If your company has a dress code policy, it should not be so strict that it leaves employees feeling stifled, or be culturally insensitive. Religious and cultural practices should be taken into account too. For example, if your company has a business professional dress code you should respect some Muslim women’s choice to wear long flowing skirts and headscarves, however you could require that they be in business professional shades. Additionally, companies should make it clear that they are willing to adapt the dress code to accommodate anyone’s needs in order to make the company a more inclusive environment.
Every company is different, which is why every company needs to decide how they will handle explicit or implied dress codes. Through creating a culture of trust, it will become easier to have dress code conversations.