Why your employees might need a dress code

Expecting new team members to take their dress cues from your existing staff can be fraught with problems; especially if you have a few challenges with the way your current team dress.
By Jackie O’Fee.


It’s graduate season – the time of year when you are on-boarding bright young things, fresh from university, who are taking their first steps into the “real world” of their chosen career. 

As well as the hugely important team-building, culture integration and general information you’ll be imparting, it’s a good idea to include a ‘Dress Code’ component to your induction programme. Expecting your new team members to take their dress cues from your existing staff can be fraught with problems; especially if you have a few challenges with the way your current team dress. 

The conversation around how your people dress can be difficult to bring up because it’s such a personal topic. Although you no doubt have staff members who dress very well, you may equally have one or two who choose what to wear to work based solely on what’s easy. 

As an employer you have the right to state how you want your people to dress, but how do you tell someone they aren’t dressing well?  I’ve had many employers share their frustrations about employee dress standards with me, including one business owner who told me she had stopped one of her team from meeting with key clients, as she felt the employee’s dress standard was such a poor reflection on her business. 

Your staff represent your brand in everything they do – not simply in client interaction, and the way they dress is an extension of that. A study undertaken in 2004 concluded that: “Not only are customers likely to judge employees themselves by their dress, but customers are also likely to use employee dress as cues to the quality of the organisation itself” [Source: The effect of dress on customer expectations of service quality and purchase intention’ – Journal of Business Research.]

While much may have changed since 2004, more recent studies suggest that our casual dress codes do in fact create more casual working habits. When dressed casually, another study suggested a 44 percent increase in tardiness and absenteeism, while employees themselves admitted to feeling less focused at work when in casual dress. 

Having a written dress code is an important tool to add to your “how we do it here” ethos with the written specifics of what is appropriate in your workspace providing less room for personal interpretation. 

When writing your dress code work out what constitutes the dress standard you’d like to see your employees adhere to; be it shirt and tie, or simply a collared shirt. Then drill this down to specifics – is it a “collared shirt” or “Long sleeved collared business shirt”? Think about the details such as footwear. Are open-toed sandals acceptable?  If so, you may wish to specify well maintained feet and nails (and state that Birkenstocks are not work appropriate).  

How about short skirts or strappy sundresses? Jeans? Provide your employees with specific information as to what they can and can’t wear. Are visible tattoos OK or should they go on the “don’t” list? What about T-shirts or polo shirts? 

As well as being specific, gender guidelines are also helpful.  Having a “Do’s and Don’ts” style means you can list any business dress faux-pas that are unacceptable in your environment, often in a light-hearted manner.

Consider health and safety guidelines also – do your employees need to wear steel capped boots for example?  

Adding a section on grooming standards is a good idea. This can be quite general with a simple statement of “High standards of grooming are required at all times”, through to specifics like well-maintained hands and nails and well-trimmed facial hair. 

When drafting your document it may be a good idea to enlist members of your team to help – this would certainly improve their engagement with the process.  Ask them what they believe is acceptable, and what isn’t. You might be surprised at how high the standards become when your people start to think about them.


Jackie O’Fee is the owner of personal style consultancy Signature Style. She works with both individuals and organisations and is a popular speaker and television presenter. www.signaturestyle.co.nz


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