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With return to the office plans underway, one of the things that organizations can do is create some new expectations – or even better, eliminate some old rules – to better reflect the company culture. Yes, I’m talking about the dress code. And I’m amazed that after everything we’ve been through we still have to talk about work attire.
The HR Brew newsletter recently had an article about “Employees are Bringing Their Comfy Pants to the Office” and it’s true. Over the past couple of years, we’ve discovered comfortable clothing. Pieces that don’t need to be dry cleaned. We look good in them. And we don’t want to return to attire that’s expensive to buy and maintain. The article reminded me that now is a perfect time for organizations to reevaluate what constitutes workplace attire.
Let me be clear. I’m not advocating wear your jammies to work (unless you only work from home). That being said, there’s a wide spectrum of clothing choices between pajamas and a business suit. Maybe the policy could be “wear what’s appropriate for the work you’re doing that day.” If you’re meeting with a client and a business suit is appropriate, then that’s what you wear. But if you’re going into the office to sit on Zoom calls all day with co-workers, maybe a suit isn’t necessary.
And by all means, if you have a closet full of business suits that you love and you want to wear them…go for it. But if an employee doesn’t and they don’t need to, then is it really necessary to make them spend the money? Being able to have options where your work attire is concerned could save employees money and make them a little bit happier at work. Think about how you feel when you get to wear your favorite shirt or shoes.
While we’re discussing workplace attire, let’s toss out a couple more things. Almost a third of adult Americans, regardless of age, have at least one tattoo. Organizations are going to have to think about whether it makes good business sense to turn away qualified candidates just because they have ink. Companies like Lowe’s, Trader Joe’s, IKEA, and Whole Foods have tattoo-friendly policies that allow employees to display body art but put limits on content that may be offensive.
The other dress code aspect to consider is hair styling and color. I know that there are states with legislation that bans hair discrimination, a social injustice that has been predominately experienced by Black people. I’m not talking about that today. People should not be discriminated against because of their hairstyle. Period.
What I’m referring to when I mention hair styling and color are the pinks, blues, greens, etc. Colors that are traditionally not associated with hair color. This isn’t a gender specific discussion. People have found that they like a pop of color. And guess what? It doesn’t change the person’s ability to get the job done. Like tattoos, organizations need to decide if they’re prepared to turn away a qualified candidate because they have blurple hair. (No, that’s not a typo. Blurple is a color.)
In a very competitive recruiting market, a policy like “wear what’s appropriate for the work you’re doing that day” could be a competitive advantage. Call it a free employee benefit. Oh, I’m not just referring to line employees here. I know lots of managers and executives who would love to have more options when it comes to work attire.
Organizations have an opportunity to reevaluate their dress code policies. They can hire candidates based on the knowledge, skills, and abilities they bring to the organization, not their hair color or jeans or a tattoo. I believe companies that give employees more freedom with work attire will see positive results in recruitment, engagement, and retention.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring the streets of Miami, FL17