The disadvantages of a formal dress code policy in the workplace
Engagement 4 minute read

The disadvantages of a formal dress code policy in the workplace

Rise | January 14, 2020

Increasingly flexible workplaces means an increasingly flexible dress code policy (or getting rid of it entirely). Employees want to feel comfortable at work, but there is a balance between comfort and professionalism.

Nowadays, instructing employees on what they can and cannot do, say, or wear is not a simple task. The dynamic has changed, and personnel have become aware that businesses are not able to function without the cooperation of their people.

As a result, employee dress code policies can potentially be quite controversial. Whereas more conventional employers equate formal business attire with increased professionalism, more modern employers believe otherwise.

Modern workplaces argue that the strict enforcement of a formal dress code impedes a number of  fundamental employee rights. Instead, they opt for policies that favour a business casual dress code informed by casual attire.

These are the disadvantages of implementing a formal dress code policy in the workplace. 

In modern organizations, a work dress code should be reflective of both the employee and the workplace.

The clothing that workers wear to the office reflect a set of personal choices determined by the responsibilities of their role while also operating as a way of expressing their individuality.

As HR Consultant Cherie McGill states, “At the end of the day, 99% of people will do the right thing and make wise wardrobe choices.”

Formal dress codes in the workplace have persisted as a result of traditions fortified by senior leaders who grew up with them, while younger employees are discouraged to confront these now outdated corporate office norms.

Those defending old-fashioned dress codes are concerned that a more slack dress code policy will skew how an organization is perceived. Younger business leaders such as Mark Zuckerberg are altering the standards of old dress codes. Zuckerberg's casual attire of a t-shirt and denim jeans has not diminished his image as the CEO of Facebook on the global stage. Based on this, employers need to be flexible with their dress code policies to suit the individual rather than preset traditions.

Clothing is one of the simplest ways to express one’s identity, whether that image is concerned with competence, sexuality, age, or gender. Forcing people to dress in a particular manner that conflicts with their personal beliefs or self-image is not a healthy practice to promote in a workplace that wishes to foster belonging and community.

Comfortable employees are happy employees. As such, it is a best practice for employers to place a certain level of trust in their workers to decide what is or is not appropriate in the workplace.  Establishing guidelines as to what is not acceptable while giving more freedom of choice is also beneficial in regards to a dress code policy for business attire.

In an increasingly empathetic—but also sensitive—society, employers forcing their individual beliefs regarding how their staff should dress and appear is a fragile and risky act.  

Of course, common sense plays a significant factor in that employees are responsible for understanding that their appearance impacts the context they are in, which in this case involves the perception of the organization at which they work. 

As casual dress codes are becoming increasingly standard, a shift is unfolding. In terms of what is thought of as more important in the workplace, more weight is being placed on the quality of work an employee produces rather than the impression associated with their appearance.

There are multiple benefits of encouraging business casual clothing in the workplace over a formal dress code policy, including open communication between managers and employees, good morale, and lack of cost to the employer.

With these considerations in mind, making the corporate decision to not oppress your people when it comes to how they dress in the office will only lead to successful outcomes for your business.

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