When you’re working out of your kitchen, a company dress code is the last thing on your mind. But as your workforce grows, there may come a time when you need to give it a little more consideration. How do you decide what dress code is right for your business and get your employees’ buy-in to do it?
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 organization. When you’re a small business, that might not make as much sense. Rather than modelling your wardrobe choices off 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.
Take Oxfordshire brand communications agency Bottle as an example, with a combination of client services personnel, creative designers and writers, trying to introduce a suit and tie culture would be a very hard sell.
Holly Tyzack head of editorial at Bottle explains:
“Here at Bottle, we simply want to breed creativity. As such, we try to avoid dictating to people what to wear as we wouldn’t want to stifle any creative juices or personalities. Of course, if we are off to pitch to a financial services firm, we would strongly encourage the team to get suited and booted for the occasion, but the rest of the time you can find us donning the jeans and converse. Ultimately it’s when we are comfortable that we have our best ideas, which of course is what our clients pay us for.”
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.
Sell in 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 the reasons 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.