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Susan M. Heathfield

Challenges With Dress Codes?

By May 10, 2014

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Work dress codes, particularly business casual, are popular on the site as are the picture galleries we've made that illustrate the requirements of each of the dress codes.

A couple of years ago, I read in the HR Daily Advisor that 41% of the workplaces they surveyed still expect traditional business attire for exempt employees and 31% for nonexempt employees. And, I found myself uncertain about what respondents thought of as traditional business attire.

In my company, casual dress has been the standard for a long time. This occurred because an enterprising employee inquired about why our dress code was business casual. We thought about it and, especially since customers rarely visit our offices, we had no reason to offer.

So, we changed the dress code to casual. And, we asked our employees to dress casually but inoffensively and appropriately for work. Since our organization trusts employees, the dress code is about a paragraph long. Have you taken a look at your dress code recently and asked why? Furthermore, if you've adopted an extremely detailed policy (which I write because my readers want them and depending on your environment, you may need one), ask yourself why about that, too. I'll bet your answers will surprise you.

Once you've figured out that your dress code has two purposes: to provide guidance to employees who legitimately want clear expectations and to take care of the rabble who just "don't get it," the most frequent question I receive is this: How can I enforce the dress code, without being the HR dress code police, when several of our senior managers dress any way they want?

To a reader this week, I suggested: "I am afraid that without the support of your senior managers, enforcing a dress code is difficult. Sit them down and ask them to decide what they will support. Your employees will not be impressed with the code if their managers are not following it. And, no, you don't want to be the fashion police.

"Here's the reality: managers need to walk their talk or you face an impossible, uphill battle about enforcing a dress code, or any other policies, for that matter.

"You might also consider gathering a cross-sectional team of employees and managers together to hash out a dress code with which they can all live. You could hold a fashion show for employees.

"Getting managers on board is crucial. You need to work on helping them understand what's in it for them, the customers, and the company. You might want to read some of my recommendations about change management, since change is what a dress code is all about."

What's your experience of dress codes?

Image Copyright Christopher Robbins / Getty Images

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