HRM Five: Things not to wear to work

What HR managers should (and shouldn’t) tell their employees about appropriate office wear.

Do not wear flip-flops to work. Skirts hems should end at least one inch below the knee. Trousers must be pleated.

Such specificity in an office dress code could be useful for staff – but it might also be perceived as condescending. Yet just saying “business-appropriate attire” might leave too much ambiguity in interpretation, and be confusing for new staff.

Here are some ways that HR managers can guide their staff without having to hold their hands:

1.       Highlight why your company has chosen its specific dress code. E.g. “We meet clients and partners regularly, and they might even drop by unexpectedly on occasion, so we try to always look professional just in case.”

Providing your reasoning will help employees understand that the dress code policy is not arbitrary, but an important aspect of how the company presents itself. 

2.       Solicit volunteers to act as ‘models’ of people who are wearing appropriate office outfits, and photograph them for your dress code policy. This provides employees with visual examples of what is considered acceptable, and limits any confusion or ambiguity.

3.       Provide new employees with the policy before they start work, so as to avoid awkward situations on their first day. Do make it clear that the policy is neutral and does not impact any particular race, gender, ethnicity, or religion; you don't want anyone to feel singled out. 

4.       If anyone has crossed the line, take them aside and gently explain the situation. If it needs to be urgently addressed – e.g. if someone is meeting with an important client but is inappropriately dressed for the occasion – either send them home to change or help them rectify the issue (e.g covering up with a jacket).

It's more likely than not that the mistake was most likely committed out of cluelessness rather than active malice, so it's best to avoid treating it as a discliplinary issue to begin with. 

5.       Trust your staff: use the dress code policy as a way to communicate the company’s culture, not as a way for employers to be draconian tyrants over their employees. They are valuable assets, not disposable minions -- so always remember to treat them as such. 


Yamini Chinnuswamy offers five important points on everything you wanted to know about HR practices today, but were too afraid to ask. Check out previous editions of HRM Five here

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