How to tell staff they're dressed inappropriately: Summer Edition

As the weather heats up, it’s tempting for employees to push the dress code boundaries. How can HR prevent inappropriate clothing choices?

How to tell staff they're dressed inappropriately: Summer Edition
Summer is the time for shorts, flip-flops and tank tops – but probably not in the office. What’s HR to do when people bring their beach wear to their desks?

One HR expert suggested sending a reminder now, before the weather heats up and tempts people to stray from the code.

“It's probably a good idea to send out a little dress code reminder before it gets too hot,” HR blogger Suzanne Lucas said. “It's easier to remind people than it is to have to send someone home for wearing something inappropriate.”

Kimberly Rodin, founder of Unconventional HR, spent 13 years working in HR in the financial services industry. Dress codes required shirts, ties and dress pants for men and pant suits or hosiery with skirts for women.

When a casual Friday was introduced for summer one staff member took “casual” a little far – wearing a belly-baring fringed t-shirt. It was time for HR to step in.

Rodin stresses the importance of giving feedback in private, and not making it sound like a personal attack. The emphasis is on the clothing, not the person wearing it. An advantage for Rodin in addressing the issue described above was having a clear policy to fall back on.

However, in some industries HR could do better things with their time than stress over dress, she says. Unless someone is meeting clients or there are safety issues involved, people should be able to make their own judgement about what is appropriate.

“I do think it’s industry specific,” she said. “I don’t think what we wear to work impacts our ability to do a job. If business leaders are too focused on what people are wearing, they have their priorities in the wrong place.”

Lucas added that since most workplaces are air-conditioned, employees should not be uncomfortable in standard business wear.

Leaders should set the standard in their own sartorial choices, and ensure employees understand why the dress codes exist. People are much more likely to follow the rules if they understand that they were not decided arbitrarily.

“Overall, summer is a more relaxed time just about everywhere,” Lucas said.  “But, make sure don't go more casual than your company culture allows. When in doubt, it's generally better to dress up rather than down.”


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