Dress Code in the Office: Necessary or Needless?

By Nicola Reynor

The debate over whether or not companies should have a dress code in place has been going on for decades. Certain organizations believe it’s essential that their employees adhere to certain standards regarding the way they dress at work. This is especially true when employees have face-to-face interactions with clients and customers on a daily basis.

And while many people don’t mind having guidelines to follow, others feel that as adults, they’re more than capable of dressing appropriately at work without having a formal dress code in place. Even HR managers may find it a bit overreaching to tell their female employees, for instance, how long their skirts should be or their male employees how wearing customized suits is the way to go when it comes to high-powered business meetings or black-tie work events.

Because many people still believe that the way a business’s employees dress reflects that company’s culture, environment and business standards, it’s no wonder that many small businesses have continued to create and enforce formal dress code policies. Before you can decide whether your company needs a formal dress code, it might help to answer the following questions:

  • Does wearing certain types of clothes contribute to a better or a lackluster performance?
  • Do the types of clothes worn at the office determine whether the workplace environment is more comfortable and collaborative?
  • Does workplace attire really matter in jobs where face-to-face interaction is non-existent?
  • Do the expenses related to what people have to wear to work affect your decision?

If you decide to implement a formal dress code, do you best to strike a balance between guidelines that accommodates your employees’ need for comfort and style and a policy that requires them to dress in a way that reflects the values of your company. If your dress code is implemented in the right way, employees will have no reason to oppose it.

Here are three reasons why a dress code can work:

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1. It arrests attention. A standardized dress code takes the spotlight away from office attention-seekers by making them adhere to standards the company considers appropriate. This will prevent the office hallways from turning into fashion show ramps and enable your staff to focus their efforts on work. Your office will remain a place of work, rather than a place for showing off the latest clothing trends. Your staff will be able to focus more on being productive and performing well rather than on comparing each other’s outfits and accessories.

2. It encourages professional behavior. The way people dress often affects their behavior. Adhering to a proper dress code can help remind employees that they’re in a more formal setting, one in which they’re expected to behave in a cooperative and a supportive way with their colleagues. This should help encourage professional behavior among the staff,which will help foster unity, equality and team spirit.

3. It creates a positive impression. Having a dress code in place will help shape the way you want to be perceived by your clients and customers. If you’re trying to position your company in a certain way and gain your customers’ trust, getting your employees to look the part can help, especially if your workplace is a retail shop, restaurant, showroom or other venue that involves one-on-one interaction with other people. A dress code can ensure that when your customers see your employees, they see a representative of  the type of company they want to business with.

But there’s a downside to having an established dress code, too:

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1. It may restrict creativity. Employees have the right to express themselves and dress the way that suits them best. The formality of a dress code can feel restrictive and dampen their creative spirit. This may hamper their spontaneity and affect their performance.

2. Some employees will purposely choose to ignore it. There’s a good chance certain employees will buck the system and ignore any dress code you put in place, at least in the initial stages of implementing it. Most of your employees are probably already following the company rules you’ve put in place and might feel very protective of the limited freedom they have. The idea of having to follow a dress code may not go down very well with them.

3. It may reduce employee productivity. We’ve all heard of the adage “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Coupled with the standard formality of an office environment, a dress code may seem like a bit too much, leading to feelings of boredom or stress among your employees. In the long term, this can lead to plummeting employee efficiency.

Whether or not a dress code makes sense for your business is a question only you can answer. If you decide to put one on place, you’ll need to be sensitive or risk retaliation. The trick lies in finding a balance between the formal and the casual in a way that boosts employee productivity while making them feel comfortable in their own skin.

Nicola Reynor is a blogger who loves to blog about business and lifestyle topics.