What To Wear To Work

Casual Dress Trend Continues

A perennial topic faced by HR and line folks alike in many organizations revolves around your organization’s dress code or personal appearance policy.  I can almost see your heads nodding and your eyes rolling.

We no sooner think (or convince ourselves) that everyone is on the same page, when HR (typically) is informed that someone is wearing what might be considered beach attire or worse.

Where are dress code policies headed these days?

A recent survey by Robert Half Finance & Accounting revealed that 74% of CFOs said their accounting and finance departments have a somewhat or very casual dress code. Nearly a quarter (23%) observed that business attire guidelines have relaxed over the last five years, compared to 16% who reported a more formal dress environment.

A similar survey by OfficeTeam have found that 56% of employees preferred to wear a more relaxed work attire, and most employees (86%) reported they like casual dress codes because they can wear more comfortable clothes.

However, about one in four respondents (23%) said their company policy isn’t always clear about what attire is acceptable, and 41% admitted they’re at least sometimes unsure about whether clothing is office-appropriate. Hence, to eliminate that uncertainty, nearly half (48%) choose to don a uniform.

What should one do?

A Three Point Answer

Here’s a three-point answer to consider (all three points are equally important).  First, check to see if you have a dress code or personal appearance policy.  If not, you might contact your HR rep and inquire about creating one.  No HR rep?  No worries – you can easily draft it yourself.  There are plenty of sample templates you can use as your starting point.  Google ‘sample dress code policy’ or visit http://www.shrm.org.

List which articles of clothing are and are not acceptable.  Include pictures of what is and is not appropriate to wear to work.  Try to eliminate or at least minimize the guesswork around this topic.

You will be in a stronger position to affect some change if you have a policy which supports the business casual dress policy (if that’s your intended policy).  Second, you will need to rally your fellow leaders to your cause.  Unless you are all on the same page, you won’t have a leg to stand on.  Third, then you and your fellow leaders need to agree to enforce the policy – and figure out ‘who’ will enforce the policy.  Consider each employee’s immediate supervisor.  A good policy should outline the consequences for non-compliance.  For example, if a leader informs her employee that he is not dressed according to the dress code, she could send him home to change.  In some organizations, doing this also triggers a ‘tardy’ or an ‘absence’ which may be a ‘chargeable’ occurrence (a double whammy), which serves as a deterrent.

Again, the ‘consequence(s)’ need to be spelled out in your policy and communicated to all employees in advance.

Final piece of advice on policy enforcement: if your policy is not enforced, then why have it to begin with?

Brandi Britton, a district president for OfficeTeam states, “Besides following official company policies, employees should pay attention to the wardrobes of managers and colleagues. If you’re uncertain about whether it’s ok to wear something to work, it’s best to play it safe by skipping it.”

Something else to consider is that there may be some ‘generational’ implications/perceptions.  Some organizations’ cultures stress more ‘inclusiveness’ than others, and, as such, more casual dress may be viewed by some as a way to express their individuality, thereby providing the organization with an opportunity to exercise more inclusiveness.

And naturally, a personal appearance policy would be incomplete without mentioning your organization’s stance toward tattoos and body piercings.

A litmus test we could all ask ourselves is, ‘What’s in the best interest of our customers?’ If we truthfully and thoughtfully answer this question, it likely will influence us to make the right call.

Good luck.

the HRmeister