Holding Employees Accountable – Ask HR Bartender

I received this note from a reader about employee dress codes:

We own a local bar and grill. I’d like some guidance on the acceptable length of shorts and tightness of clothes for both bar and kitchen staff. The shorts on some employees are very short and the clothes on others are too tight. How do we address without offending people?

While talking about dress code policies is a popular topic, I wanted to take this discussion beyond just short shorts and address policy making in general. Because the real answer is in creating a solid policy not just outlawing risqué clothing.

employees, accountable, leadership, manager, workplace, policy, dress code

When companies create a policy, they do it for a reason. If there’s not a business-related reason, I’m not sure why a policy is created. “Just because” isn’t good enough. Even when the government enacts a law that we might feel is stupid unnecessary, we can say that “the government felt this was an issue businesses needed to pay attention to”.

Using our dress code example, if the length of shorts and tightness of clothes is having an adverse impact on the business, then the organization needs to create a policy. They need to know exactly what the issue is – maybe they are getting complaints from customers. Possibly they’ve lost a huge piece of business because of the staff attire.

Make sure the policy fixes the issue. We know how frustrating it can be when a policy is created for no apparent reason. What’s worse is when a policy is created and it doesn’t fix the problem. Let’s say a company creates a dress code policy to address the short shorts and revealing clothing. But it doesn’t fix mid-drift shirts and halter tops. So the customers complaining about the shorts now start complaining about something else.

Get some buy-in regarding the policy. When companies create policies in response to something, you know there will be unhappy campers. It’s best to find a way to bring those voices into the discussion. Tell employees what’s going on. For example, “We’ve received two comment cards this week mentioning the staff attire. We don’t want this to become an issue and subsequently impact business. Let’s discuss our options.”

Communicate the policy. This is critical. Once the policy is finalized, hold a meeting and tell everyone what the policy says. Let them know 1) why the policy was created, 2) who was involved in crafting the policy, 3) what options were discussed and 4) why this approach was the one selected. I’ve always found employees might not like the policy but will respect it when they are given the background of the decision.

Specifically when it comes to dress code policies, it’s important to draw a distinction between fashion and work attire. Unless of course, you’re in the fashion business. There are lots of really beautiful clothes and people look fabulous in them. I’ve owned many fashionable pieces of clothing that I was not allowed to wear to work. The decision isn’t about what’s in fashion. It’s about what’s best for the workplace.

Outline the consequences. Policies need to have some teeth in them. Meaning they need to have consequences. If the policy was created for a business reason, then not following the policy obviously must have a business impact. Tell employees what will happen if they choose to not follow the policy. Often a consequence of not following the dress code is being sent home – and losing pay for the shift.

Hold people accountable. The company has drafted a policy, communicated the policy and told employees there will be consequences to their actions. If an employee doesn’t follow the policy, the company must take action. If they don’t, the policy is worthless. And employees will start to test other policies to see if the same is true.

I’m honestly not sure why a company would go through all the time and energy to create a policy and not hold people accountable for following it. If the goal is anarchy, you can achieve the same result by not creating a policy and you’ll save you a whole bunch of time and resources. No matter what the issue – creating a sound policy and holding people accountable will get you the results you’re looking for.

Image courtesy HR Bartender


  1. says

    This always drove me crazy. I’m in Minneapolis, so every summer the company wide reminder of the dress code policy needs to come out to head off the flip flops, capris and other common warm-weather offenders. Agree on accountability. I guess like with anything, you try to give an initial warning but after that I had managers send people home!

  2. says

    I agree about the importance of setting out policy. Dress code is just one of the many areas that employers must be firm on with their employees. An example we discussed in one of our blogs was smoking: http://bit.ly/TgkBct.
    Great post!

  3. David says

    I’m curious about the accountability of HR itself. In any organization, who holds HR accountable? This assumes that HR is not investigating itself regardless of title. Thanks.