It appears that the smart dress code that has long been a staple of office life is dying out. Workwear provider Simon Jersey recently carried out a study of 2,000 people and found:
- One in four workers label their employer’s dress code as “smart”
- Only 5% of respondents described their dress code as “very smart”
- 36% said their employer had introduced a “smart casual” workwear policy
- 15% said their company had gone completely casual
Here are the small business experts from Brighterbusiness.co.uk, who have come up with tips on how to set up an office dress code:
Dress for the job you want
When people say you should dress for the job that you want, they usually mean that you should look to the senior members of your organisation. When you’re a small business that might not make as much sense. Rather than modelling your wardrobe choices on the company owner’s closet, you may be better off thinking about your customer’s instead.
Who are your customers? How do they dress? What do they expect to see when they meet you? The answers will vary widely depending on your type of business. For example, if you are an auto mechanic, they might prefer branded coveralls. If you’re a retail shop, smart casual could be a better fit.
If you’re running a service business with limited face-to-face contact with your customers, allowing your employees to wear comfortable, casual clothing could be a free employee benefit. Unless you’re running a fitness centre, having some sort of minimum standard that rules out activewear is still a good idea and a reasonable request in exchange for the luxury of otherwise dressing as they see fit.
Selling the new standard
Introducing or making changes to the workplace dress code can easily set off a round of grumbling if it isn’t handled properly. Before you make any changes, let your employees know that you are looking into the idea and tell them why. If you’re simply doing this because of your personal preferences, and the end result is bound to be unpopular with your employees, you should go back to the drawing board.
If possible, invite your employees into a meeting and walk them through your thoughts. Outline important points such as customer expectation, business positioning and employee well-being. Give them the opportunity to ask questions and try to address any concerns face-to-face. This will help make it clear that their opinions are valid and give you a chance to further explain your motivations.
Circle the date
Before implementing your new dress code, be sure to give employees (and possibly even yourself) time to purchase any new items needed for their wardrobe. If the change is significant and is likely to cause employees to incur sizeable expenses, you may want to provide your existing employees with a personal budget to help cover some or all of the costs.
Mark the start date in everyone’s calendar and send out a reminder a few days before. Give your team a few days of leeway before speaking to anyone who fails to comply. If appropriate, outline clear penalties for lack of compliance (disciplinary, sending home, eventual dismissal) and follow through with anyone who isn’t in line after the first week. When looked at in isolation, it is silly to think that anyone would risk their job because of a change in dress code, so it may be a sign of deeper problems or other job-related dissatisfaction.
Once you’ve got more than a couple of employees, making sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to company dress is important. The last thing you want is for one person to come to a client meeting in jeans while the other is in a suit. Select the standard that is best for your business and your customers, and work with your team to get everybody on board.
For more tips, guidance and information for SMEs and start-ups, visit www.brighterbusiness.co.uk.