How to AdDRESS the Employee Dress Code

Over the last few years, company cultures have become much more relaxed than they used to be. With millennials taking over the workplace and an advancement in technology that has changed the way things are done across the board, it isn’t uncommon to walk into any given office and see employees in jeans, t-shirts, and sandals. Regardless of your feelings toward this development, it likely won’t shift again anytime soon so it’s important to be prepared to approach the issue when necessary. Below are a few tips on how to avoid the awkwardness when it comes time to tell Tony from IT that his favorite ripped jeans with the coffee stain are not work appropriate. 

Put a Policy in Place

There are many benefits to having your office be pretty laid back, and the same can be said for the alternative. Whether you want your employees to dress comfortably or you prefer the office to be more “business” than “casual”, it’s important to have some sort of policy in place. This sets a base guideline for your employees to follow and gives you a reference point if anybody needs to be spoken to about what they’re wearing. It’s much easier to show Tony from IT exactly where in the Employee Dress Policy it states “No Ripped Pants” than to simply ask him not to wear those jeans anymore. That way there is no room for misinterpretation and Tony can blame the dress code for having to wear nice slacks, and not you (or their supervisor).

Be sure to include general grooming/hygiene in this policy. There is no easy way to tell an employee that their natural aroma is causing their colleagues discomfort, but it’s significantly easier to let a dress code do the talking. The same can be true for those employees who wear a little too much cologne or perfume. Sending out a company-wide email that asks everyone to review the policy is a good first step to avoiding that conversation. If the person in mind does not take steps to better the situation, make sure you speak to them discretely. They will likely be humiliated enough; you do not want the whole office to know what you’re talking about. 

Keep the Conversation Light

Once your policy is in place and your employees have reviewed it, hopefully, you won’t have to enforce it too often. Allow your team to slip up once in a while without repercussions, we’ve all been in that position and being overly strict can cause tension between you and them. When you do have to address an issue, however, don’t make a big deal out of it. As discussed previously, be discrete so as not to make the employee uncomfortable. However, the best method is to simply pull them aside, let them know what the problem is, and leave it at that. Do not make them feel like they’re in trouble. If they dispute their reason, you can show them the section in the dress policy so there is no room for argument. If the problem persists, then you can start taking disciplinary action. 

Occasionally, if possible, you might consider having a manager address a violation who is of the same gender as the employee. Under general conflicts, this shouldn’t be necessary, but depending on the violation and the comfort levels of everybody involved, it’s something to consider. When in doubt, however, it’s usually better to address it yourself.

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