Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Dress Codes – Part 1 Why they Aren’t Necessary in Most Workplaces

I recently commented to a colleague that I get really worried when managers create a committee or send a request to the HR department to develop a written dress code. Don’t get me wrong, as an author of several human resource books, I’m very big on professionalism in the workplace. This includes use of courtesy and respect when dealing with customers, co-workers and managers. It also includes dressing appropriately for their workday. I also understand the frustrations of supervisors and managers when faced with employees who dress inappropriately.

First, let me point out that 95 percent (likely more like 99 percent) of people head out the door to work wearing clothing and footwear that are appropriate choices. They don’t need a dress code. A minority make some wrong clothing choices. Often they are dressed too casually. They have dressed for a day at the beach and not for a day at work! Some forget safety regulations that require close toed shoes or prohibit dangly jewelry.

If you are a regular reader of this blog or of my free monthly newsletters (Sign-Up Here for the Supervisors & Managers Newsletter) you will know that I believe it is supervisor’s and manager’s jobs to give feedback. Picture this … the employee dressed for the beach appears at work. What should happen now? The supervisor must pull him or her aside and quietly, respectfully and clearly say that their choice of clothing is not appropriate. If the employee’s dress is very (I mean very) inappropriate, he or she must be sent home to change. If the choice is only marginally wrong, then the feedback should be “Please make better choices for professional dress in the future, or you will be sent home to change.” I’ve also witnessed co-workers coming to the rescue with spare pieces of more appropriate garb.

If the same employee shows up again having made a poor choice, then she or he should be given verbal warning (the first step in progressive discipline). The warning is documented on the personnel file. Further disciplinary action is available for the very small number of employees who are intent on being rebellious. It is important to tell employees what you stand for. It is equally as important to tell them what you won’t stand for!

There is a tendency for managers to want to legislate common sense. Policies should apply to the 99% who need them. In the case of dress codes, we waste hours of precious time debating, drafting and revising pages of detailed rules (exactly how many inches is a high heel allowed to be?). For whom is all this work done? Yes, that’s right, dress codes are for the 1% of employees who make bad choices not for the 99% who manage to go to work appropriately attired hundreds of days a year!

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week where we’ll discuss alternatives to dress codes and you’ll even get a script for what to say when someone challenges you that there is “nothing in writing” that tells them how they can or can’t dress on the job.

Paula J. MacLean is an educator, human resource and management consultant and the author of several best-selling human resource books. Visit her website at www.silvercreekpress.ca.

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