Investment bank Goldman Sachs has relaxed its dress code, giving all of its 36,000 employees the chance to dress down every day. What’s your practice dress code, and could relaxing it improve productivity?
This edited article first appeared on the Bright HR website.
In many workplaces today a formal dress code is outdated; people are encouraged to wear clothes that make them feel comfortable—in the hope that productivity and results will increase. But you need to think about your workplace and what effects will come from your staff wearing different outfits.
Dress codes vary greatly – from t-shirts to the woolly jumper, to that one person who keeps their suit on because that’s their idea of workplace attire; you must be ready for your employees to see what they can get away with, too. Your dress code might be specific – for example, black jeans and a white button-down shirt or a blouse, with jumpers allowed during the winter; but what happens when that one person wears ripped jeans for the first time?
Everyone should understand what is and isn’t acceptable – it’s why you need a dress code policy.
What is your workplace culture?
Obviously, not every workplace involves face-to-face dealings with customers and if a person’s sitting at a desk all day using a computer and a ‘phone, is a certain dress code policy necessary? Some people would argue that this is the perfect place for staff to express themselves. Why not free the tattoos, piercings and ripped clothes.
Others would disagree and say that a dress code – no matter how formal or casual – brings a sense of belonging to a workplace. If everyone’s wearing their ‘black jeans and orange polo shirt,’ you can push towards goals with unity and pride.
Avoid dress code discrimination
Many businesses that enforce a corporate dress code make the mistake of asking men to wear a suit and tie, but give women the vague order of ‘business dress’. This is problematic. On the one hand, women could argue that they have more margin for error because their dress code is vague while, on the other hand, men could argue that their dress code is more rigid and gives them less choice.
There’s also the need to think of protected characteristics when you devise a dress code. Protected characteristics include:
- gender reassignment
- marriage and civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion and belief
- sexual orientation.
You mustn’t restrict one gender or sex more than another; sticking to ‘conventional’ attire for each sex is fine. Nor can you discriminate against someone’s religion by banning them from wearing an article that lets them express their faith unless that is, you have a neutral dress rule that bans any sort of expression, whether religious or political, and you have a good reason for doing so.
In jobs where loose religious clothing or certain headpieces could threaten staff safety, you might be able to justify restrictions on religious clothing. You should clarify all of this in your dress code policy.
Your dress code in the workplace policy
Your policy’s your chance to list your dress code examples. Whether that’s jeans and a button-down shirt, as mentioned earlier, or something more rigid, it’s better to be specific rather than vague. Be clear about what you will and won’t allow, and consider the following points, and you’ll have a great dress code that everyone buys in to and follows:
- Involve the opinions of your staff in assessing the current dress code and in devising a new one.
- Be fair to your employees and consider the impact a change in dress code might have.
- Tell your staff about the dress code requirements when they start working for you and communicate all changes whenever you make them.
- Your dress code in the workplace policy should be accessible and easy to read.
- Be practical. Neither a chef nor a lifeguard, for example, would benefit from wearing a suit while at work.
- Consider a balance; people are happy when they can express their personalities, but you might want to make sure you have a brand image that people recognise.
- If you need more ideas, why not visit some of your favourite businesses to see what their staff wear. You might find the inspiration you’re looking for to create your company’s perfect dress code.