Whenever different work cultures are compared, it’s only a matter of time before dress codes are brought up. Work dress codes can be arrived at organically, like is the case with jeans and hoodies in 2000’s startup chic, or might be specifically considered for a brand, such as is the case in theme restaurants. In other cases it might be due to tradition, or due to the climate and other practical work considerations.
But at some point you will have to consider whether or not you need to look a bit deeper into your work dress codes. Whether you decided to adopt a more specific policy or a more relaxed one depends on your specific circumstances.
Reasons for specific work dress codes
- Safety. There are many contexts where work dress codes have to be dictated by the inherent dangers of the job. There’s a reason you can’t wear a tie or even wear a wedding ring on some industrial production floors. There’s a reason why certain jobs require short or long sleeves. In cases where employee safety and insurance requirements are a concern, a dress code is definitely warranted.
- Professional appearances and branding. Front-facing employees and anyone else who needs to face customers and clients should ideally dress to inspire confidence and give an idea of competence in the field. Even among doctors and dentists with private clinics for example, laboratory coats or smocks are often expected. The fact is, our clients and customers do judge us by the way we look.
- Productivity. Work clothes can psychologically prime you for productivity. While it’s a given that our clothes can influence the perceptions of others, there’s plenty of evidence to indicate that the way we dress can also affect our own. Furthermore, studies have shown that how we dress can cognitively prime us for mental processes associated with more productivity. Pretty similar to the reason many of us feel pumped when we get a fresh set of business cards.
- Less stress before employee shifts. While not the biggest deal for some people, employees may appreciate the fact that they don’t have to put much thought into the clothes they will get into before each shift. This can help conserve willpower, which recent studies indicate may in fact be a finite resource.
- Encouraging esprit de corps. It’s no surprise those who belong to groups with uniforms or similar standard pieces of clothing tend to strongly identify with them. Uniformed organizations such as certain civic groups, fraternities and sororities, sports teams, and the military are quite noted for having a team spirit. Something as simple as a standard jacket for your employees may help you cultivate the same thing.
- Taking the spotlight away from attention-seekers. Sometimes, you don’t want anyone to stand out, especially in a typical service-oriented setting. While few dress codes will ever suppress the most expressive employees, one that makes everyone better fit a standard expected by your customers, or the brand you desire to create, can often be a good thing.
Reasons against strict work dress codes
- Stifles creativity. The same psychological priming discussed earlier can also work for creative employees when they are allowed to dress more freely. Even employees in less conventionally creative fields may also find that they prefer a looser dress code to perform at their best.
- May cause rebellion. Many employees will purposefully rebel against them.I know I have. Many people find the idea of an authority policing the clothes they wear to be distasteful, even if that same authority is the one responsible for their paycheck. If enough people disregard the dress code, this may lead to a situation where it all becomes moot.
- May make employees less productive. If the dress code is inappropriate for the climate, impractical for daily use, uncomfortable, or difficult to adhere to, you and your employees might lose more time than you intended to save in the first place.
- May create resentment if no real rationale is made obvious. In many cases, employees don’t see a point to their dress codes, either because management did not communicate the purpose of the dress code, or simply because it doesn’t serve a practical purpose. It depends on each case, but look closer to see if steps should be taken to better demonstrate the rationale behind dress codes, otherwise a relaxation of the guidelines may be in order.
What to do if you do have a dress code
When an enterprise is still small, you might be able to do away with any explicit workplace dress code. However, as you bring more people in, it will often be necessary to lay out at least a few guidelines, if not actual regulations.
When this happens, make sure the reasons for your dress code actually make sense to your employees. These reasons should also be communicated properly through emails, orientations, and possibly posters in strategic areas such as restrooms and break rooms.
Pin posters or flyers of your enterprises’ workplace guidelines and safety signs in common areas to help you better communicate the reasons for a workplace dress code. This is especially important for situations where safety is a prime consideration.
What other pros can you think of? Comment below.