If you’ve put off instituting a dress code for your workplace or office, consider this: Customers judge your company by the employees they interact with. If those employees are poorly dressed or groomed, you’re likely to see less repeat business. Rightly or wrongly, your employees are your brand ambassadors and their appearance reflects on the quality of your business.
There are other reasons to have a clear and fair dress code in place. Inappropriate clothing can be distracting or offensive, which affects morale and hurts productivity. In a worst-case scenario, an offended employee can bring a lawsuit that no one wants.
Small business owners naturally want to instill a sense of respect and professionalism in the workplace, and this starts with appropriate attire. Here’s how to get things rolling:
Put your dress code in writing. This first step codifies your dress code policy, outlining objectives and consequences if the code is violated. The reasons behind having such a policy should focus on positive elements, such as your desire to have employees project a responsible and professional image at all times. The written dress code can address the desired standards for clothing, hair styles, personal accessories, the use of perfume and display of tattoos or body piercings. It can be a stand-alone document, but should be included in any existing employee handbook.
This policy serves as the reference point for any employee questions about what’s appropriate and what’s not.
Distribute and communicate. Distribute the dress code policy to everyone on your staff. Invite questions and be prepared to spell out the fine points, if there are any. In some cases, for example, office workers may be required to wear a suit and tie, but warehouse employees will have a different dress standard to follow.
Enforce fairly. Once the policy is in place, enforce it fairly across the board. That means no exceptions for a “star” employee or your nephew in Receiving. If and when a violation occurs, engage the employee in a private, one-on-one discussion. Public scoldings are humiliating and damaging to morale. In general, the first violation can earn a warning, with more serious consequences facing repeat offenders.
What the dress policy can’t do is discriminate on the basis of gender, race or religion. The law obligates you to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who claim that the policy creates an undue imposition on their disability or religion. Simply put, the dress code policy must affect everyone equally.
Include Casual Friday, if possible. Employees are more likely to go along with rules for how they dress if they’re given the latitude to “dress down” a bit one day a week. Of course this depends on their good judgment and some special guidelines may be necessary about what’s acceptable for Casual Friday. But it’s good for morale and demonstrates your flexibility as owner.
Set a good example. The dress code isn’t for everyone but you. If you follow your own apparel guidelines, others will see you’re serious about its affect on business.