Why you need a specific dress code

Speaking to a team member about their hair colour, numerous piercings or inappropriate dress can be very tricky. Jackie O’Fee outlines how to start the conversation.

“So, how do you feel about things like blue hair and facial piercings? We want to be a company that isn’t stuck in the past, but we have high standards as a corporate office, and we want our people to reflect that.” 

Wow. Tough question. I totally get the desire to be progressive but it’s a very tricky balancing act when you also want to represent yourselves in the market as a highly professional corporate organisation.

How much can your people ‘colour outside the lines’ before totally undermining your desired company image?

The answer to that it is entirely up to you. As a business you have the legal right to expect a certain standard of presentation for your employees, and to insist they adhere to it.

It’s not just at the corporate end either, with many retail, trade and service businesses also expecting their people to dress a certain way. In fact, there is often more freedom (and certainly more confusion) in more corporate businesses where the dress code is open to interpretation by the employees. 

Back to specifics. Blue hair and facial piercings are probably not going to cut it in a corporate office. Other concerns corporate employers have shared with me include visible tattoos, bare midriffs, skirts that are too short and dirty garments. All of which can cause a discordant note in a professional office. 

Those things are fine when your employees are off doing their own thing on their own time but can be a distraction to the people doing business with you.

So that is the bottom line: you don’t want your clients to be distracted or even discouraged from doing business with you because of how your people look. 

Of course, the flip side of this is that you may wish to encourage a client base that would enjoy this freedom of expression, but the reality for many of us is we simply can’t afford to limit our market in this way.

New Zealand is small, and correspondingly our markets are small. We are all competing for our piece of the available market share and in a competitive market you don’t want to be creating conscious or unconscious barriers for your customers. 

All of this is very well in theory but speaking to a team member about their hair colour, numerous piercings or inappropriate dress can be very tricky.

This is where having a written, specific dress code is invaluable as it then gives you not only something to refer to, but also ensures your team understand your expectations.

I would encourage you to share this dress code both when you provide the new staff member with their contract and also during your induction process.

As an aside, my son recently got himself a university holiday job at a large retail chain and I was impressed to learn that during the on-boarding process his boss painstakingly went through the dress requirements with him.  

My suggestion when talking with your overly pierced, highly tattooed, blue-haired employee is to begin the conversation with how you want to be perceived by your clients. 

Then refer back to the dress code and express your concerns that those particular things do not meet the standards outlined.

Beginning the conversation with how you want to be perceived by your clients is not only central to the context as to why your company upholds those standards and believes they are important but is also difficult to argue with. 

 

Jackie O’Fee is the owner of personal style consultancy Signature Style. She works with both individuals and organisations. See signaturestyle.co.nz     

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