Dress codes and uniforms: it's all about presentationby
I read an article about dress codes in the Times newspaper with great interest the other day. The Marylebone Cricket Club had received complaints from some members that its dress code was being ignored, which led to concern over falling standards.
This snippet made me consider whether dress code standards were also slipping in UK workplaces more broadly and where exactly such conventions fit in today’s business world? The answers to these questions are, unfortunately, not cut and dried. The market that a company operates in and the level of face-to-face customer contact that its staff members have will almost certainly have a bearing on its attitude to what standards of presentation are required. For example, many creative agencies or media businesses take a relaxed approach to dress codes. This means that workers have the freedom to show their creativity through their attire in a reflection of the kind of work that they do. At the other end of the scale, however, customer confidence would take a serious dip if, for instance, sales representatives at an upmarket property development firm were casually dressed, thereby failing to represent the ‘product’ that they were selling. Ultimately, employees are the physical embodiment of the company and so will shape customers’ opinions of it. As a result, it is vital that they present themselves in ways that match the corporate ethos, both in terms of what they say and of their general appearance. Ambassadors for the business Dressing smartly will give a professional impression, which subconsciously boosts trust. It will also communicate that the firm take both its work and that of its clients’ seriously. But a smart dress code or uniform can likewise provide a number of less tangible benefits that should not be underestimated. For example, the psychological act of ‘dressing for work’ can help team members get into ‘work mode’ at the start of the day and ensure that they are mentally prepared for what lies ahead. A corporate uniform or specific dress code also ensures that staff are seen as ‘ambassadors’ for the business and, because they look smart, they are more likely to portray a confident and professional image. If introducing a company-wide uniform, however, it is often down to the HR team to find ways to manage the implementation sensitively - and subsequently enforce it. But such activity needs to be thought through, not least because choosing appropriate garments can be a challenge. Corporate attire must be versatile enough to be worn by personnel working in a number of different roles and levels within the corporate hierarchy - and in the case of multi-nationals, in different climates even. So what needs to be considered in this context? Because company uniforms are likely to end up becoming central to the organisation’s image and, therefore, strongly ingrained in corporate culture, choosing something that staff will actually want to wear is important. Appropriate dress In fact, it has been found that, if workers feel good in what they wear, it can be motivational and make them feel more confident in their role. Some also like the idea of being able to dress smartly while not having to spend money on a work wardrobe themselves. But a corporate uniform must likewise be appropriate. This means opting for garments and footwear that are comfortable, suitable for local climates and meet any specific industry-based health & safety guidelines. It is also important to take into account individuals’ religious and other beliefs in order to ensure that the dress code is not discriminatory under legislation such as the [***] or Disability Discrimination Act. External advice in this area can be obtained from the likes of the Equality and Human Rights Commission or the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, however. When introducing a new dress code policy or uniform, the best way to engender enthusiasm is to involve personnel in the process by giving them a degree of ownership of the decision-making process. From a uniform perspective, for example, views should be canvassed during the design stage and ‘wearer trials’ put in place to test whether the proposed garments can stand up to the daily rigours of the job in hand. The potential limitations of such consultations must be understood, however, which means that final decisions should always include senior management input. Once a dress code policy or uniform has been adopted, it must also be enforced to maintain consistency. There is little point in having a standard in place if individuals simply go their own way or decide to personalise the look in line with how they feel that day. Ultimately, while dress code policies and uniforms continue to play an important role in many of today’s workplaces, it is important to get them right - or risk making the wrong impression.
Teresa Stedman, managing director of Stedman Corporate Clothing.