Are flip flops okay? Is my skirt too short? Shorts? Hats? Oh my! Summer is here and along with the warm weather come a lot of questions about appropriate office attire. For those in industries like finance or medicine, offices dress codes can be pretty clear cut. But in more casual work environments, it can be a little more challenging to pin down what is acceptable to wear around the office.
In an ideal world, it would be nice to leave it to employee discretion. However, it’s important to have a policy in place that employees can refer to—especially on the rare occasion that there is a violation that calls for HR intervention.
So how do you create a workplace dress code that your employees can get behind? Here are five tips for implementing a policy that aligns with your company’s culture:
1. Identify Core Company Values
As an HR professional, it’s not your job to be a policing figure, but rather to facilitate an environment in which everyone can do their best work. From this standpoint, you can encourage employees to dress in a way that reflects the values of the company.
Start by identifying the core values you want your employees to embody—such as professionalism, safety, comfort, etc. Then tailor the messaging around the dress code to convey these values. This will help everyone feel like they are working together as representatives of the organization to project an image of professionalism, rather than simply following rules for the sake of rules.
2. Speak to Employees’ Intelligence
Thanks to your impeccable hiring skills, you can most likely trust that your employees have good judgement as professionals in a business setting. However, even your best employees may have those days where they stand in front of the mirror before they leave for work and ask themselves “Is this work appropriate?”And sometimes they make the wrong call.
You don’t want employees to feel like they’re being closely monitored for appropriate dress. Make sure your dress code respects their intelligence by being very clear on expectations and the reasoning behind each guideline. Give specific examples (i.e. to avoid ripped jeans and flip-flops), but there’s no need to list out every prohibited clothing article, nor should you feel the need to inspect every hemline or shoe style that comes through the door.
3. Keep Your Policy Fair and Inclusive
Avoid using language in your policy that unfairly affects gender, race, or religious background. You don’t want any of your employees to feel called out or discriminated against.
Your employees should already have a basic understanding of what is and is not acceptable in the workplace. For that reason, there’s no need to call out a specific demographic to make an example, but rather focus on principles that the entire company can abide by. Instead of talking about acceptable hemline length, for example, set a general standard for employee discretion on revealing clothing.
4. Get Creative with Communication
Communication around dress code is important to ensure the policy has a positive reception. If employees see the policy as reflective of company values rather than as a limitation on their self-expression, they will be more likely to respect it. Introduce the policy with a well thought out roll out plan. Communication around the policy could include:
- Announcement and explanation of the policy at a company-wide meeting
- An invitation for employees to provide feedback
- Emailing a digital copy of the policy
- Printed copies of the policy posted around the office
The more creative you are here, the better! Use imagery, gifs, or even games to communicate your policy—whatever is best suited to the culture of your organization.
5. Revisit and Revise the Dress Code
Your dress policy should evolve over time as trends and the organization itself evolve. Perhaps you grow from 10 to 100 employees, or you start to invite clients into your office. Whatever the reason, it’s important to stay flexible on the rules.
If you open the dress code up to feedback, you invite employees to put on the HR cap and try to see the business through your eyes. Let them have a say in what they think and then iterate where appropriate.
At the end of the day, you want to create an environment where employees can feel safe, comfortable, and productive. Appropriate workplace attire is just one piece of the whole puzzle.