An office full of employees in jeans – for some people, this sounds like a dream. For others, the thought alone is enough to cause them to break out in a cold sweat. How do you figure out which dress code policy is right for your workplace?
The tech start-ups may have spearheaded the dressed-down office trend, but nowadays more and more companies are adopting it. If you’re one of those business owners wondering whether or not you should also take the plunge, we’ve pulled together some advice to help you think through the whys and hows.
The benefits of a dress-down policy
Amending your company dress-down policy can be a very easy way to give your employees a new benefit, and it doesn’t cost you a penny. Permanent dress-down policies let employees know that they are free to choose attire based on their own personal preferences, rather than yours. If they want to stick with smart business wear, they certainly can. But equally, should they feel more comfortable sitting in jeans all day, that’s fine too. As long as it doesn’t impend on their ability to do their work or on the people around them, there is little harm in giving them the freedom.
Dress-down policies are also a good way to let your employees know that you trust them. Uniforms and stricter codes may be appropriate or even necessary for front-facing teams, but there isn’t much point in having the professional equivalent of a school uniform policy for employees that your customers and business partners can’t see. By loosening up the dress code, you reconfirm to your employees that you know you can trust them to make appropriate decisions.
Allowing casual wear in the workplace can bring along an unexpected benefit: fitter employees. When we changed our dress code, we noticed more and more team members taking up walking on their lunch hours and before and after work. The more comfortable clothing and trainers made in-work exercise a much more realistic option.
The potential pitfalls (and how to avoid them)
We’ve outlined the positive aspects of a dress-down policy, but what about the pitfalls? The first potential risk of loosening up the dress code is the possibility of it swinging too far in the opposite direction. As much as we want to believe that everyone knows where the line is, there is always that one person who pushes it a step too far. Make it clear exactly where dress-down ends and too casual begins by documenting it and sharing it with your team. For us, tracksuits and flip-flops are a step too far; for your workplace that might be different. Wherever the line might be, make sure it is clear to everyone.
The second possible pitfall is around employee buy-in. Dress-down is only a benefit if the employees perceive it that way. To help us make sure, we put the decision to an all-employee vote and made sure to widely publicise the results afterward. This helped make it clear that the desire for the change was coming from all levels of the organisation and not just the top.
You may also want to allow room for a bit of flexibility, introducing the option to choose casualwear without outlawing their existing smart business wardrobes.
How to kick-start the change
If relaxing your company dress code could benefit your employees, start first by establishing a set of parameters – what dress down means, who can do it and what are the exceptions? Next, test the waters by discussing it with your management team. When you’re sure you’ve got a solid plan in place, put it to your employees for either a group discussion or a vote. When the majority is on board, you’ll be all set for a successful launch.
Featured image by Lion Hirth (Prissantenbär) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons