Why can’t we wear shorts to work?
Tuesday, May 09, 2017
How are strappy heels OK but sandals are not? Unless employers require uniforms, dress codes will always be open to discussion. And nothing brings out the best discussions like warm weather.
While I will sometimes concede that men may have a more challenging time with dressing for higher temperatures than women, here are a few ways to roll out a fair summer update to the dress code.
Define what professionalism and business casual mean by discussing the work environment, image and relevant business impact of clothing.
For example, discussing how personal appearance may affect perceptions and outcomes at meetings with different clients can help clarify the why behind the dress code. Getting specific can be helpful if there are specific reasons, but otherwise helping employees understand the culture and how that translates to clothes will help avoid a lot of arguments about hemlines, sleeveless vs. cap sleeve and what counts as a sneaker.
For ideas on how to get the message across clearly, check this article from the Society for Human Resource Management.
It can be helpful to get the word out early for many reasons.
First, it does not seem like the message is in response to a specific incident. Second, it helps employee get their wardrobes in order and ask any questions they may have. And third, it provides great lead time to reiterate the message multiple times, especially to those employees with whom we anticipate potential misunderstandings.
Earlier is better. Get the word out now in a variety of ways, lead by example and take the time to talk about it with anyone who may be unclear — then get all staff to acknowledge it.
This article by the law firm Foley and Lardner, LLP provides some additional guidelines on how to get ahead of dress code issues.
Different is OK
Getting ahead and being clear is also incredibly helpful if different departments will have different dress code requirements. Taking the time to clearly acknowledge in advance that it is OK for different departments to dress differently provides everyone the opportunity to understand the reasons behind varying expectations.
For example, it is easy to understand that reception, marketing and sales will need to consistently reflect the professionalism and culture of the office if they are regularly interacting with vendors, clients or customers. It is just as easy to comprehend that the facilities and maintenance teams may need to be more casual.
To successfully implement different policies across departments, consider the reasons behind the codes and ensure they are fair and talk about it openly. And if you have any questions about whether the code is fair, it is always worth it to have a quick conversation with an employment attorney to ensure the policy does not discriminate.
The bottom line is: Get clear about the culture in the office and the example you want to set as a leader then communicate expectations early and often.
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