Reviewing a changing workplace dress code and your policy

Many employees feel that wearing jeans and comfortable street clothes is preferable to the more professional business dress code and we are seeing employers moving towards a more relaxed dress code in the workplace.

The terms “business casual” and “business formal” have traditionally had an expectation that employees come to work dressed in a certain professional fashion.

In the past, they were viewed this way: business casual was outlined as women wearing a skirt or dress with a hem past the knee, or tailored dress pants with a button-down or blouse and men should wear dress pants or khakis, with a collared shirt and a belt. For business formal, placed men in a suit and tie, and women in a tailored dress or pantsuit that was dressier than business casual attire.

But these may not be appropriate norms in today’s workplace. Business casual dress has evolved, as has the way that companies should look at gender-neutral language in their policies.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “dress for the job that you want, not the job that you have,” it suggests that higher-level jobs are the ones that require the formal dress code. That doesn’t seem to be the trend anymore. Google is an example of a company that doesn’t fit that mold. Google’s philosophy is that you can be serious without a suit and Facebook has adopted a similar expectation for workplace attire that is completely casual (http://www.businessinsurance.org/10-big-businesses-with-incredibly-casual-offices/).

A lot of employers offer “casual Fridays” which offer a relaxed dress code one day each week. Some employers may also require employees to donate to a charitable organization to be able to wear casual dress on Fridays, but either way, wearing jeans and casual dress is portrayed as a benefit to employees. If you look at attitudes and productivity, could there be potential benefits to easing up on expectations of workplace dress?

Another consideration is brand image and how your company is perceived by customers and clients. If your industry is customer-facing, what kind of image do you want to portray? Do your customers expect their point of contact to be dressed professionally? How would customers feel about seeing an employee dressed in jeans and a t-shirt? If you aren’t in a customer-facing industry, should employees be required to dress professionally every day?

Businesses also need to consider how they are wording their dress code policy and be careful to use only gender-neutral terminology. The definitions above for business casual and formal, for example, are not appropriate nomenclature now given our clarified view of gender identity.

Telling women they must wear a skirt and men, pants, could be seen as a discriminatory policy, even though this was widely accepted until recently. Please contact the human resources department at BCN Services if you would like to review your policy and make an update to your employee handbook.

Kari Stanley, Partnership Manager