Pros and Cons of Enforcing an Employee Dress Code

Fri, Mar 23, 2012


Many offices opt, at some point, to institute an employee dress code. While some small business (or those that rarely host customers or clients) may not choose to enforce a dress code simply because it won’t impact their business one way or another, as your company grows it may become important to present a more professional image, even in a relatively enclosed office environment. But employees that are used to showing up in casual clothing might protest a sudden change in policy that requires them to start wearing office-appropriate attire (whether it’s as simple as slacks and button-down shirts or you’re demanding an all-out suit-and-tie overhaul). As a business owner you need to decide whether or not it is worth the hassle to enforce a professional dress code. Here are just a few pros and cons of choosing to upgrade your company’s required attire.

On the plus side, your employees will look a lot more professional, which will help clients to take your business more seriously. Anyone who visits an operation staffed by employees dressed in Hawaiian shirts and sandals may wonder if they’ve entered into a partnership of a fraternity. And as more outsiders enter your fortress of solitude, it’s in everyone’s best interest that investors, partners, clients, and even vendors are greeted by a well-dressed staff. Even potential hires will be more interested in joining a team that seems professional and pulled together.

As a bonus, a proper dress code will encourage your staff to take themselves more seriously. This psychological trick will help them to become more invested in their jobs, potentially increasing confidence, efficiency, performance, and output. All of this is great for your business. And of course you want to promote health, hygiene, and safety. Whether employees are working at desks, minding a store, or operating heavy machinery, flip-flops are never appropriate work attire. Well, maybe if you operate a beachside bar. The point is that a dress code could protect your employees (and prevent liability issues).

On the other hand you may have to field all kinds of complaints from employees. While they really can’t grumble too much about a dress code that is related to safety or hygiene, they may give you plenty of grief for mandatory professional attire in an office that is only ever seen by the staff. And they might have a point. For one thing, the addition of an arbitrary dress code could cause financial hardship to some employees, especially if their position or pay grade wouldn’t normally require them to obtain a nicer wardrobe.

In addition, your policy may not take cultural differences into account. For example, some cultures or religions require members to wear certain garments, like head scarves. If your policy prohibits head wear, this could create an issue of discrimination. Of course, if you let one group slide on the rules, other may cry foul, citing favoritism.

You will simply have to address the code with a measure of sensitivity to ensure that these issues don’t arise. Consider cultural differences and try to account for them when creating your dress code. And account for the fact that some employees may need time to assemble a work wardrobe once you’ve changed your policy. Finally, set up procedures for your HR department to delicately address any dress code or hygiene violations (don’t tell the girl that shows up in the same outfit as yesterday that she looks like a hobo, for example, or insinuate that the guy in accounting who suffers from severe halitosis should consider a Careington Care 500 plan). The right approach, a common-sense policy, and strict adherence by all could definitely help to make your dress code (and your business (a success).

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