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When it comes to summer dress codes, think win-win

Michelle-Hicks_CMYK_HR professionals are spending more time on strategic initiatives and less on transactional processes. But business managers still rely on HR to assist them with practical, daily issues like establishing summer dress policies that work for both employees and the company.

Summertime can be a challenge for organizations when it comes to establishing and upholding dress standards. This is especially an issue for workplaces with younger employees who are not necessarily interacting face-to-face with the public. When there is customer interaction or safety issues dictating dress standards, even the most casual individuals understand their boss’ request to cover up tattoos and wear close-toed shoes. But when employees are processing orders in a cubical or doing some other work behind the scenes, it can be a challenge to produce a workplace dress code that employees buy into.

Developing the policy is not the issue. The courts have granted employers considerable autonomy in deciding what they will and will not permit employees to wear in the workplace. Employers can also restrict what is exposed in young fashion, such as body piercings or underwear. The real issue is aligning the reasons behind any policies to employee performance and, ultimately, your business success. Then, explaining any decisions to your workforce so you capture their hearts and minds — their commitment — to supporting your organization’s decisions.

Any policies you consider drafting for dress in the summertime or throughout the year should align to your company’s values and mission. For example, if innovation and creativity are important values for your organization, then you should think about whether a strict dress code really makes sense. If you advocate self-expression to fuel new ideas, restricting an employee’s personal appearance could be inconsistent with the performance you desire. Stifling creative dress could result in stifling original ideas to take to the marketplace.

On the other hand, if your organization requires rigorous discipline and strict adherence to processes and rules, for reasons of safety, professional presentation, or other business-related standards, then your dress code should reflect that. For example, a law firm may have several office clerks who rarely interface with clients, but because of the professional nature of the firm, it is appropriate and consistent to insist on formal standards throughout the organization.

When your policies logically align to your organization’s mission and purpose, employees can easily assess if they belong in that culture. As a result, they will be more likely to self select whether or not they can adhere to what is expected of them — not only in their appearance but, most importantly, in their performance. An individual who chooses extreme creativity in his personal appearance may be willing to adapt his professional appearance if he believes in an organization’s purpose and what he can contribute to its success.I know of a very successful office products salesperson who loves body art and has covered his upper arms and legs in tattoos. But at work, he is very comfortable covering up because he loves his job and believes in his company. He respects that his customers may not have the same appreciation for body art as he does and he does not want to jeopardize those relationships.

When you appeal to the common sense of your employees by developing standards that make sense for your business, it takes the whole conversation of “dress code” from authoritative rules to what creates a successful environment for employees, customers and the company. Or, it applies the habit the late Stephen Covey defines as getting everyone to “Think Win-Win.” It aligns your business practices to your philosophy for business success. What could be more strategic in HR than that?

Michelle Hicks, a senior professional in human resources, is a director in the engagement practice of Buck Consultants, a Xerox company.






About Michelle Hicks