Rethinking (and restarting) dress codes for your returning workforce

Posted on

Good-bye pajama pants – hello necktie?

Even before the pandemic, cultural transformations were pushing many American businesses away from formal attire. From Goldman Sachs to JP Morgan, even the most traditional stalwarts were relaxing dress codes in the hope of encouraging innovation, creativity, and individual autonomy. As workers return to the office after 18 months of working in sweatpants, the thought of returning to pre-pandemic wardrobes feels dull and oppressive to many. To help your employees make the transition – and avoid awkward fashion faux pas – you should be proactive and set clear standards.

Below, read six steps you can take to get your company’s back-to-work dress code just right:

Start with why

Many may not enjoy giving up their freedom, but your people will find your policy easier if you can provide a good reason for it – you can even consider asking for their input. For example: Just as our doctor’s scrubs and stethoscope gives us trust in her competence, the right office attire can boost your clients’ confidence in your people’s professionalism, creativity – and what your brand stands for.

Choose attire that reflects your brand

Is your culture creative and ‘start-up’? Or is it more staid, traditional, and corporate? By matching your brand ethos and corporate purpose, you can appeal to the people you want to hire and retain. Conventional thinking says that a more formal dress code will encourage your employees to take their work more seriously. But it can also stifle individuality. On the other hand, a casual dress code can give employees freedom to be themselves, serving as an attractive recruitment perk and retention mechanism.

Be clear

Your client-facing workers will have different expectations than those working in your contact center. An effective dress code is easy to understand and not open to individual interpretation. Give specific, visual examples of which clothes work and which clothes don’t. What does ‘business casual’ mean in detail? Does ‘casual’ include flip-flops and baseball caps? Make sure you explain and document your dress code policy in your employee handbook and on your employee intranet. And remember, certain employee segments like second-chance hires, younger workers, and workers who have been remote for a long time.

Build in wiggle-room

After the tumult of the pandemic, workers need re-energizing and may want to ‘dress happy.’ Before setting a prescriptive dress code, ask yourself: is this rule necessary? What’s the business reason? Do the benefits of having a polished-looking workforce outweigh the benefits of allowing your employees to feel comfortable in their own skin at work? Giving employees some freedom is a straightforward way to help them feel happier and more in control as they return to the office.

Be fair

You can use your dress code to stand against the subtle forms of discrimination that can creep into any workplace. For example, people of color regularly face discrimination in corporate America simply for wearing their natural hair to work. Other policies ruling out head coverings can discriminate against followers of certain faiths. And cultural norms around appropriate ‘male’ and ‘female’ clothing can exclude gender non-conforming employees. Use your dress code to make it clear that differences are something to celebrate in your workplace. And always have your legal team review any policies before sharing.

Don’t shy away from enforcement

A policy is useless if not enforced. Make sure your workers understand the repercussions of non-compliance, with appropriate and well-documented reprimands. For a first-time offense, a quiet word is probably enough. But if employees are repeatedly failing to follow the rules, you’ll have to react swiftly and firmly to uphold standards.

Clothing still matters, and perception is powerful. Creating an office dress code that’s fair, flexible, and enforceable is not easy, but we can help you find the middle ground between sneakers and dress shoes.

Learn more about how we help businesses of all sizes navigate today’s tricky labor environment. And for more insights on the complex, unfolding issues shaping our working world take a look at our freshly launched research Resetting Normal: Defining The New Era Of Work.