Dressing for respect at work

Generally a position description does not contend with an organisations dress code. Many induction processes and policies also fail to address this matter. So in the absence of a recognisable uniform, what outfit will staff turn up to work wearing? Most will dress appropriately supporting the organisations image, however if a staff member is out of sync with their choice of threads, how do you go about guiding them in the right direction?

How a staff member is dressing inappropriately determines the approach. Failing to wear apparel that meets safety requirements obviously flies in the face of regulatory standards set by industry and regulatory bodies, putting the organisation at risk of a penalty and the worker at risk of injury. Workplace signage demonstrating the type of safety gear required to work in a particular area clearly sets the required standards. The provision of work boots to replace high heels for those in warehouse type environments for example will address any misgivings in this situation.

But what if an employee is clothed too sexily? It’s clear that hemlines are rising, necklines are more plunging, tops are tighter, waistbands are lowering and heels are getting taller. Add to this we are accessorising to excess too, and when referring to accessories I am including tattoos and piercings. This is what is in fashion and fashion is dictating how we present ourselves, or so one may argue. If you dress provocatively in the workplace, will you be taken seriously by your colleagues, both male and female alike? Communicating the difference between business professional and street professional can be conveyed through conversation and imagery rather than TV shows. Studies have indicated that those who dress more suggestively and engage in flirtatious behaviour in the workplace earn considerably less than those whose wardrobes are more conservative, thus dressing too sexy for work could be career suicide!

One may be dressing too casually and this could leave a client questioning the credibility of the organisation. I have seen employees who are very comfortable in their work environment, so much so that they show up to work in their gym clothes and conduct client meetings while wearing these outfits. This is fine if you actually work at a gym, but in the corporate world it is a big no, no. Co-workers will wear the shame and embarrassment that the seemingly oblivious and inappropriately dressed employee does not. While the odd casual day is welcomed and relaxing, it is not an invitation to parade midriffs, excessive cleavage, offensive t-shirts and ripped jeans. Yet if the work environment calls for casual, how do you tell one they are overdressed? In these circumstances it is not unusual for the overdressed to be labelled an outcast as they don’t fit the corporate culture set by the very casually garbed CEO.

Speaking with an employee about their inappropriate dress sense can feel awkward, for both parties. It is best discussed in an area where you usually hold meetings after approaching them quietly to request a moment of their time. Let them know that individual expression is encouraged, however the company has a dress code and it must be adhered to by all employees. Remind them they are a representative of the organisation and their appearance needs to be consistent with the company’s image and their role within it. Most of us will be concerned about hurting ones feelings as it is easy to offend in this situation. It may be helpful to emphasise to the employee that their contributions are valued and they play an important role within the team.

Firing a worker for their inappropriate dress sense is probably going too far, however sending them home to change their attire is not. After all, how an organisation dresses speaks to the corporate culture. This is the advantage of having a work uniform for all employees to wear. The employer sets the tone for what is expected in the wardrobe department yet if the workplace itself is shabby and the uniform sharp mixed messages around expectations will arise.

While what we wear will not impact on our ability to perform in our job, it is important to the company’s professional image, credibility and standing within its industry. Clarifying the dress code expectations in the interviewing and induction stage is necessary to engage a preventative approach to ensuring employees do not dress inappropriately. Having a clear dress code policy to fall back on is also essential if you need to address a breach of the code with an employee and avoid making it sound like a personal attack. No one wants to stress over dress, so be clear and upfront and where possible, provide the uniform.


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SJ Personnel offer recruitment and HR services to businesses and candidates throughout Geelong, Surf Coast, The Bellarine and western Victoria region

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