Managers: How to avoid dress code drama in your office

Let’s face it – addressing your workplace dress code and dealing with offenders is definitely not high on the list of things managers enjoy about their jobs. But like so many things in business, it’s a lot less work in the long run to put in the effort and make the rules clear from the get-go, rather than having to deal with issues as they crop up. This is especially new if you’re busy expanding, taking on new staff members or opening new branches where you won’t always be around to supervise. Here’s how to tackle the issue and make sure confusion is kept to a minimum!

Set out clear rules

Having a clear, documented set of dress code rules might not make you a candidate for most fun boss of the year, but it remains the best way to get your message across plainly. Lighten the mood by throwing in a few humorous points, like some pictures of people in swimwear as a ‘what not to wear’. Be as direct as possible – going for subtlety is not going to serve you here. If you don’t want employees to wear open shoes for safety reasons, state so plainly and provide images of acceptable footwear for clarity. If shorts are a no-no for your male staff, then come right out and say so. If you expect employees meeting with clients or going out for meetings to wear full corporate wear, then say so. And don’t just say so, provide images of exactly what you’re looking for too – the more the better.

Deal with offenders directly

If an individual is violating the office dress code, especially if they’re putting themselves or others at risk as a result, then now is not the time for passive aggressive mass memos hoping they’ll get the hint. Obviously don’t call them out publicly in front of their peers but have a friendly sit-down and explain why their behavior isn’t acceptable, giving valid reasons and listening to any mitigating circumstances they might bring up.

Be open to change, but firm where you need to be

Recently the news has been peppered with stories of people who feel that certain aspects of whatever dress code is forced on them are unfair. Often this stems from having one rule for x set of people – like skirts being fine for women but shorts unacceptable for men, or men being allowed flat shoes when women are expected to wear heels. You can do your best to limit these kinds of issues by applying a blanket rule wherever possible so no one group feels discriminated against.

Sometimes it might be necessary to revisit your own thinking and be honest with yourself as to whether your own expectations are out of date. As a rule, office dress codes are becoming more casual and laid back across the globe and many more people are working from home. Obviously, you can’t enforce a dress code when your employee is in their own living room, so you might as well embrace the informality! Of course, you may even decide to go all out and virtualize your whole office with the help of a site such as, giving your employees even more flexibility over their workspace. With increased flexibility comes greater efficiency, so a virtual office could be the way to go if you’re considering removing your office dress code entirely.

When you’re trying to look more professional than your competitors however, you might feel the need to impress with your dress code, even if it’s just a video meeting. Ultimately, you may need to adapt the dress code depending on the formality of a situation. Be honest with yourself as to whether this is really serving your company, or if it’s just making your employees uncomfortable. And on that point…

Keep comfort in mind

If the kind of work your company does is mostly behind the scenes, then there’s really little point in enforcing a dress code that looks awesome, but actually just makes your employees tasks harder. Remember that formal clothing is often stiff and hot, and uncomfortable employees are rarely productive ones.

On the other hand, there’s no denying that sales staff meeting with potential clients are bound to come across as way more impressive when they’re sporting well-fitting, uniform corporate wear. You can compromise a little by making it clear that they’re welcome to change into something more comfortable back at the office.

Lead by example

Consciously or not, your staff looks to you as their foremost example of what to wear. It doesn’t matter what you’ve laid out in your formal office dress code guidelines if you’re wearing something completely different, so make sure you practice what you preach. If the dress code says casual Friday is fine, then dress down and put your employees at ease. If it says extra effort needs to be made when visiting clients, then lead by example here as well. Avoiding dress code drama starts with you, and that at least is under your control. There are always going to be issues, but if your follow these basic guidelines then you really can keep them to a minimum.

Author: Oliver Curtis

Hi there. I’m Oliver. I’m just a young boy from the outskirts of… Okay, that’s a lie, I’m not a young boy anymore, although I certainly feel that way at heart.

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