It’s the August holiday season and the sun has been shining – albeit intermittently. This month I will take a less serious approach but I do hope that you will find reading this just as interesting. When the sun is out, have a look around you – people seem to shed clothes at an alarming rate in the UK. Last month during the sunshine days, I tweeted something about my fellow commuters needing to have a dress code as they surely weren’t going to work dressed as they were. That sparked some debate I can tell you!
When I was living and working overseas in Asia and Africa, invitations from High Commissions and Embassies to events would stipulate lounge suit, black tie, national dress, informal etc. and you had some idea as to what to wear. Here in London, I have just started a new role in a very multi-cultural organisation where the dress code is ‘formal’. However on Fridays we are allowed to wear jeans and other casual attire.
I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review which was advocating going ’old school’ and wearing a suit. The reasons cited for this were:
1. Ease. There’s no need to agonise over whether you’re dressed up enough. A suit is at the top of the dress-code hierarchy, you can wear it worry free.
2. Professionalism. There is no doubt that wearing a suit makes you both look and feel professional. It can be a good way to raise someone’s opinion of you — perhaps even your opinion of yourself.
3. Respect. Wearing a suit shows whomever you’re meeting with that you value themeeting enough to dress up for it.
There’s a lot to be said for the above and clearly it depends on the environment you work in. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of having a dress code in the workplace.
- Dress codes promote a sense of unity amongst staff and contribute to the organizational brand
- Clients often see uniform attire as a sign of professionalism
- Dress codes help ensure staff spend more time thinking about work and less on appearance
- Dress codes can help reduce or mitigate power conflicts
- Staff may become resentful at being told what to wear
- Staff may be unhappy if there is a substantial cost implication e.g. buying a suit
- Dress codes may also be seen to limit freedom of expression
- Enforcing a dress code can also be time-consuming and can cause tension if staff have to be reprimanded for non-compliance
- Dress codes must always be fully compliant with employment law e.g. when operating machinery, adding to the administrative burden
Some organisations even go so far as to stipulate the standards of presentation expected of employees. Often this sets out the quality standards for clothing i.e. ‘clothing should be clean and ironed and should not be overly frayed.’ Taking it even further, some organisations promote positive standards of personal hygiene but this really does depend on the environment in which you work and your sector.
With reference to the law, the Equality and Human Rights Commission states that you may have a claim of direct sex discrimination if your employer’s dress code treats one sex less favourably than the other. Please note however, that case law on dress codes has shown that it can be difficult to persuade the employment tribunal that a particular dress code treats one sex less favourably and many employees have lost their claims.
To conclude, dress codes should be seen as guidelines rather than hard and fast rules. Nobody wants to work in a place filled with clones but with individuals sharing a sense of unity.
I do hope you’ve found the above information informative. Thanks for the feedback, please keep it coming. Contact [email protected]
Mahmood Noman is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and a Member of the Chartered Management Institute.