Are Dress Codes in the Workplace Important?

Are dress codes in the workplace still important?

It’s a very interesting question in our current Internet-based business environment. When the ‘dot-com’ boom was in full force, it became a prized circumstance to be able to wear just about ANYTHING to work. Many dot-com companies had very relaxed dress codes and allowed employees to come to work in clothing that might normally have been reserved for weekends or vacations.

If you sit with any employer and begin to discuss dress codes you might end up in a debate – or the employer may simply refuse to enter into the discussion. Creating a dress code for a workplace can be a tricky thing – and may be pretty far down on the employer’s “list” because they may feel that adults shouldn’t NEED dress code guidance.

Fashion is extensively promoted throughout the world – from magazines and newspapers to television and the internet, there is no shortage of information on fashion, but is that the same as having the information needed to discern what is business-appropriate?

The extensive amount of information available on fashion does not always help the cause of the dress code. The appearance of employees sets a definite tone for an employer, no matter what their size or industry. In a corporate, office-based environment, it’s even more important to clearly define and maintain a dress codes.

With summer approaching, and opportunities for young men and ladies to become employed in offices, the importance of learning how to dress for the business environment is even more important. Some young men and ladies are more interested in what is ‘fashion forward’ or in current style instead of what their employer might want. They are simply not as interested in what the world might think of them – an attitude that can be encouraged by relatively relaxed dress codes / rules in educational institutions.

A compulsory dress code can help to keep the company’s image and public perception under control and maintaining the company’s chosen image in public is essential for a new or seasonal hire to be taken seriously. The chances of successfully completing an internship or summer placement decrease dramatically when the candidate does not take the company’s image into account, instead choosing to wear what they LIKE, not necessarily what is appropriate for the position.

If no dress codes are adhered to in a workplace then anyone could conceivably wear anything of his/her choice. This will distract other employees and have a severe impact on their performance. If a colleague proves to be a distraction the other employees will have a hard time concentrating on their work. Productivity suffers, and that affects a business’ overall bottom line. An inappropriately-dressed employee can also prove to be a distraction for clients and potential clients – reflecting negatively on the overall impression of the company in what all recognize as a very competitive business climate.

Dress codes have to be reasonable depending on the type of work, and still relatively easy to implement.

A dress code that is extremely restrictive or overly detailed (including preferred manufacturer’s colors, etc without specifying an accepted uniform) can make it harder for employees to comply. On the other hand, a dress code that is nebulous and undefined can cause the same kinds of problems when an employee takes excessive license and then cites the lack of detail in the dress code as their defense.

It’s very important that employees start their work day in the proper attire – it sets a tone for the rest of the work day. Studies have shown that overly casual attire has a detrimental effect on productivity – not just because of the distraction to other employees, but because of the negative effect casual dress has on an individual’s attitude and energy level.

Some easy to spot garments that are unacceptable in most employer’s dress code include:

• Clothing which has abusive, discriminatory or foul language or graphics
• Tank tops, muscle shirts or halter tops
• Wearing torn jeans and tops
• Hats or caps (notable exception here for employer-issued headgear)
• Wearing sweat pants or sweat suits (the implication is that you just rolled in from the gym).

What things should employers keep in mind at the time of creating or updating a dress code?

Dress codes have to be reasonable depending on the type of work and the work environment. A factory-based job will by necessity have a different dress code than a retail establishment or a chain restaurant.

When developing a dress ode the employer should ensure that they are:

• Job related – not depending on personal preferences, but referencing industry standards and customs
• Not treating one gender less favorably than the other
• Not treating one race, creed or other individual preference less favorably than another.

It’s very important that the employer communicates these dress codes to the employees well in advance of the date of adoption, and allow a reasonable period for comment and possible modification. Getting input from employees – and ensuring that the dress code is communicated well to all current employees – is another way to ensure buy-in and easier compliance, Consider updating or modifying the dress code every 3 – 5 years as feedback and experience in the workplace demand. Knowing that fashion rules are fluid and constantly changing does not mean an employer should look forward to redefining their dress code completely, but allowing for adjustment keeps the information fresh and relevant, and will prove to be easier for all involved.