From a company perspective, dress code has been seen as a cost effective way to improve employee morale, provide a means for a company to become more attractive to new employees and a strategy to improve overall productivity. However, it’s also been an evolving challenge.
Casual business dress code is a challenge for workers who have had to buy new wardrobes and then still don’t know what to wear. Women in particular have trouble with business casual because it typically means wearing slacks of some sort. It’s also a challenge for human resource professionals who deal with issues and conflicts as people apply their own unique interpretation of “appropriate”. As well, it’s a challenge for customers who become confused when the usual dress code power symbols for status disappear. Finally, it’s a challenge for managers who now use precious time ruling on bare feet in loafers versus business expenditures.
To complicate things further, the dress code concept has spawned a complete new vocabulary. We see business casual, casual-casual, relaxed dress, dress-up, dress-down, smart casual, classic casual, or country-club casual dress. And, of course, every company has to have their own version.
I agree there are many companies where business casual dress is ideal. But what really bothers me is my fear that business casual dress might be slipping dangerously into weekend casual wear. It’s worrisome that an attempt to create a warm and inviting, customer friendly corporate culture and a comfortable workplace for employees might now be turning into a nightmare.
I’m sorry, but you can’t convince me that jeans or shorts with holes so big that a cheeky bit of flesh peeks out between the threads is appropriate. Or, that short tank tops and hipster pants more suited to a belly-dancer fits into an office environment. What about rings on all fingers, rings on the toes, and rings in the nose? Body jewellery in the most unlikely of places! Just how many earrings in one ear is enough?
And, what about beach bum clothes, you know, those ripped, torn and faded t-shirts that spew sexual innuendo or beer advertisements? Do they belong in the workplace? Do women’s tights barely covered by a sweatshirt fit into the workplace? I don’t think so!
From a corporate perspective, can you tell me how this improves employee productivity? Can you tell me how it makes an employer more attractive as an ideal place to work? I can certainly see how it can cut down on employee costs, but ………oh, please, just leave the weekend casual dress wear at home.
Do you think it is unfair for an employer to expect you to be presentable and professional? No! In fact, I believe that you have an obligation to the organization, to help your company present itself in such a way that it attracts and retains customers. More customers mean more work, which translates into more jobs and job security. On the other hand, don’t customers deserve the right to work with someone they can take seriously?
I also believe that you have an obligation to yourself to dress professionally. Clothes create a professional image, and, whether you like it or not, image counts. If you create a poor first impression in the customer’s eyes, they won’t come back. If you create a sloppy personal image to your manager, my bet is that you’ll be passed over for promotion. If you create a slovenly image to your colleagues, they may suspect that you treat your work tasks that way too. Remember, how you dress influences how people will judge you. And it doesn’t matter if that assessment is fair or unfair it happens.
So, don’t follow along with the beach bums. Decide not to look like you’ve never owned a mirror. Get professional. Take pride in being neat and well groomed. Take the initiative to project a strong positive image coupled with personal confidence. To be a winner, you need to look and act like one.
If your company doesn’t have a dress code then set one for yourself. How can you do that? First, look at the nature of your job; are you dealing with front line customer service? If so, then dress so that you are creating a welcoming comfort that invites them to establish a relationship and purchase your services. Remember, from the customer’s eyes, you are the company!
Next, take a look at the work environment around you. Ask what kind of corporate image is your employer creating? Then, plan your wardrobe to ensure that you project the correct business-like image. Use your common sense! From a career development perspective, you might also want to think about the old adage; “if you want to get ahead, dress the part”.
But, why not take this dress code issue a step further? Take leadership! If your company doesn’t have a dress code policy, develop and recommend one. Set up a checklist outlining clothing options and then canvas other employees and managers to get consensus. Next, recommend a set of guidelines that will define and clearly set out expectations for appropriate dress.
No matter what, take action! Stop weekend casual dress in its tracks! Bring a professional look back to the business workplace.
About the author
Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She is also host of the weekly BowesKnows radio show and is the author of Resume Rescue and Taming the Workplace Tigers. She can be reached at email@example.com://www.barbarabowes.com
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