Hot Topic: Managing Summer Dress Codes

By Robert Hosking and WAKEUP CALL

Relaxed dress codes are as popular for businesses as pools and popsicles are for kids during the warm summer months. According to a 2012 OfficeTeam survey, 57 percent of HR managers said their companies offer a more casual dress code during the summer.

Implementing a summer dress code can help boost morale during a season when employees are distracted by beaches and barbecues. But, because there can be some ambiguity with a more relaxed code, establishing—and enforcing—a casual dress policy can be tricky business.

Although what workers wear may seem like a superficial or trivial issue to some, an OfficeTeam study revealed that 80 percent of executives said clothing choices could affect a staff member’s chances of earning a promotion. As a manager, you have the challenge and opportunity to help employees understand that dressing professionally gives them credibility and shows that they understand and respect the corporate culture.

Setting the rules

The easiest way to ensure employees adhere to your summer dress code is to establish some guidelines—in writing. Unless your office has a relaxed dress policy year-round, as some industries like advertising and design do, here are some items employees should avoid wearing in the workplace:

  • Shorts
  • Crop tops and halter tops
  • Tank tops and spaghetti straps
  • Maxi dresses and sundresses
  • Jumpsuits, rompers or overalls
  • T-shirts, especially those with graphics or controversial messages
  • Flip-flops, gladiator sandals and other casual footwear
  • Sunglasses and hats
  • Excessive jewelry
  • Anything that’s see-through

Eliminating these items may leave your employees wondering what they can wear as an alternative to traditional business attire, so it’s good to provide some positive examples, as well. Depending on your company culture, it may be appropriate for staffers to trade in their suits for khakis and polo shirts, lose the jackets and ties, swap heels for casual flats, or even don jeans or cropped pants.

Enforcing the rules

Companies need to be diligent about enforcing the dress code. If one employee gets away with ignoring the dress code, others will soon follow—or resent the employee who breaks the rules and gets away with it. Either way, it’s best to address the issue immediately.

If you have an employee handbook, kick off the summer season by asking employees to review the dress code section or issue an addendum, especially if a summer dress code is a new perk for your company.

It’s also important to communicate on occasions when employees may need to stick to the company’s standard dress code. For example, you may still require your staff to wear suits during in-person meetings with clients or executives, or when attending industry events.

In you find some employees misinterpreting the dress code, email or post a reminder of your dress policy for all staff to review, rather than singling out individuals. If the inappropriate behavior continues and a manager needs to address a specific individual, someone from the HR department should be involved to provide advice to help manage the conversation. When discussing the issue, be sure to keep the conversation focused on business expectations rather than personal taste or style.

Setting the tone

The intention behind summer dress codes is to help employees relax a little and stay cool during the warm months. While this can cause some ambiguity, it’s also an opportunity to reinforce to employees that no matter what they wear, they need to look neat and polished—no wrinkled clothing, scuffed shoes or chipped nail polish. Managers should make an effort to model appropriate work wear.

When considering people for promotions, companies tend to look for those who will make a good impression on business contacts, clients and alliance partners. In turn, how your employees dress plays a role in how your company is perceived. Take steps now to ensure the entire team reflects the image you want to convey, year-round.


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