Dress code in the work place
By Samson Osero
Late last year, the government directed civil servants to dress down on Fridays by wearing casual attire “Made in Kenya”.
This directive was intended to support manufacturing in the textile industry as a contribution towards realisation of the Big Four agenda.
People in all walks of life including employees in the private sector debated on the merits and demerits of the directive.
Employers began re-examining existing dress codes to match them with realities on the ground.
Organisations that had turned a blind eye on employees’ wears woke up and wished to ride on the casual attire wave.
Others with outdated provisions on dress codes were quick to point out that enforcing them was not an easy task.
Here are some challenges that organisations face in implementing dress codes and how to overcome them.
Lack of guidelines
The dress code section of several HR Manuals requires employees to dress appropriately with decency that befits a place of work. Little or no details are provided on what constitutes appropriate and decent attire. The workforce at different levels is left to its own interpretations which easily cause conflicts especially when management issues memos to discourage particular wears.
While it is obvious that pyjamas or night dresses would look odd at work, there is disagreement on wearing outfits such as jeans, miniskirts, baggy trousers and see through clothes.
To avoid potential misunderstandings on dress codes, employers should provide guidelines on acceptable outfits, foot-wears, headgears and general grooming.
Guideline accompanied with rationale would encourage employees to abide by dress codes.
The nature of work that an employee carries out would dictate the relevant wearable attire that would meet their personal image and the corporate one. For example, front office employees and those engaged in external relations wear formal clothes such as two piece suits for men or skirt suits for ladies. These employees, who are the “face” of the firm, are expected to project a professional image in the eyes of the public.
Back-office employees who are not regularly in contact with customers enjoy less stringent rules on dressing matters.
However, they are not exempt from the generally acceptable dress code of the organisation.
The management team is known to be a pace setter on the dress code through leading by example.
Staff members sometimes use the same colours of attire seen with supervisors amid watching out not to outshine the boss.
Surprisingly, such colours which may not be imposed in the dress code serve as a symbol of loyalty to those wielding power in the organisation.
The common casual wear in tech companies seems to be a mirror image of clothes worn by key computer gurus such as Bill Gates.
He wears suits to selective meetings and events but dresses casually in the work environment.
Male employees in tech firms are comfortable in T-shirts or long sleeved shirts without neck ties.
Other sectors have working clothes such as dust coats which fall in the category of uniforms worn for health and safety.
Organisations with multi-generational employees face difficulties in attempts to prescribe dress codes for the entire workforce.
Generation X employees prefer wearing conservative clothes that are assumed to convey that they are old timers around.
Generation Y staff members are proud to wear current trendy clothes that sometimes threaten the writings on the dress code tablet.
Peer pressure within this group is so strong that employers are forced to tone down the dress code to accommodate them.
Some millennials have been heard to ignorantly ask whether clothes make a contribution towards work performance.
Dressing plays an important role in interpersonal relations which should not be ignored. Sometime people unconsciously respond to others based on the kind of attire they are wearing.
Going to a business meeting in a T-shirt may present someone as not only careless but also cast doubts on their credibility.
Organisations want employees to convey a good image to customers for building business trust. It is easier to close a sale when levels of trust are high compared to the opposite.
Dress codes have been faulted for discrimination on gender, ethnic or religious grounds. The discrimination imposes restrictions that affect people’s beliefs, values and rights.
Elsewhere, employers have required employees not to wear religious headgears, keep unkempt hair or have braid styles such as dreadlocks.
Firms may face litigations when trying to implement dress codes that violate the rights of employees.
In a recent case, a female employee was forced to wear a bra because her short sleeved blouse had potential to cause distractions.
HR should regularly review its dress code to address emerging issues which could open a flood gate of civil suits.
The primary responsibility of enforcing dress codes is in the hands of supervisors who interact with employees on a daily basis.
When a worker has broken the dress code for the first time, good disciplinary procedure would require issuing a verbal warning.
If the supervisor deems clothes worn as grossly inappropriate or indecent, he or she can ask the worker to go home and return in the right attire.
When an employee is again caught with improper attire, the company shall apply further disciplinary procedures such as written warnings.
The final warning would be concluded with dismissal. Employers would minimise dressing-related disciplinary cases by creating awareness on the dress code and encouraging employees’ participation in any anticipated changes.
The writer is HRD Consultant and Author of Transition into Retirement, [email protected]