First introduced by corporate America as a low-cost perk for employees, “casual Fridays” have now become the norm in most workplaces five days a week. Gone are the days when men were expected to wear suits and women expected to wear skirts and heels. But just because standards have relaxed, does that mean your small business doesn’t need a dress code?
One of the biggest perks of small business is an atmosphere that is usually more relaxed and friendly. Most small businesses don’t have extensive rules and regulations. But a dress code is one place where being too relaxed can be dangerous.
There’s a fine line between allowing employees to express their individuality and maintaining a professional atmosphere within your office. Those against a formal policy believe that if you treat employees like adults and ask them to dress professionally, then nine times out of 10 they will. But what about when someone doesn’t share your taste — or simply doesn’t care? A written policy can help you navigate the gray areas.
Swiss Bank USB AG gained worldwide attention in 2010 when it sent its staff a 43-page document outlining how its employees should groom and conduct themselves. The policy, which was revised in 2011 after extensive ridicule, was so specific that it prohibited women from wearing more than seven pieces of jewelry at a time and told men to schedule haircuts every four weeks to maintain a neat appearance.
Your small business doesn’t need — or probably want — such a detailed policy, but there are a few items you don’t want to skip when developing a dress code:
1. Tailor by job duties. Different departments will have different requirements. Someone who’s in front of clients all day should dress differently than someone who works on the warehouse floor. Be sure your policy explains what is expected of everyone at every position.
2. Avoid distractions. Offensive tattoos, micro-mini skirts and low cut tops can all be a distraction in an office. Make sure employees understand the difference in dressing for work versus a night out with friends.
3. Address problems immediately. If an employee violates the policy, discuss it right away. You have to treat everyone the same to avoid the perception of playing favorites — or worse, discriminating. Talking with an employee about how he or she is dressed is an awkward but necessary conversation to protect your brand and image.