Millions of employees in the UK are required to wear a corporate uniform, often to promote professionalism and portray a consistent brand image of the company. But is a uniform policy always necessary? We decided to explore the pros and cons of implementing a policy, as well as how you can go about writing your own.
Does your company need a uniform policy?
The decision on how strictly a dress code should be adhered to, or whether to implement one at all, may be based on the type of organisation or its culture. Where a high level of security is important, a uniform may need to be enforced so that staff are immediately distinguishable from the general public or those in the company’s care. Hotels, restaurants and high street retailers where customer engagement is a priority may also insist on a uniform, so it’s clear who customers should approach for assistance.
For other companies, such as a design agency or tech company for example, a uniform policy may not be needed. In these cases employees are often given the freedom to dress in whichever way makes them feel most comfortable and creative.
In the organisations that fall somewhere between these two extremes, the aim is to reach a balance where a dress code is implemented but staff members still have a degree of liberty in the options they can choose from. Getting this balance right can often be one of the crucial factors to influencing employee satisfaction.
The advantages of a specific dress code
As previously touched upon, there are contexts for which the dress code will be dictated by the dangers or requirements of the job. In many work environments, wearing hi-vis clothing or PPE may have to be enforced due to the hazards present. It may not be safe to wear a tie or long sleeves near certain machinery, or particular shoes due to the surface employees are required to work on. Having a document which dictates the workwear requirements in such environments can therefore protect against potential injuries.
Having a particular set of rules to follow can foster a professional mindset, as workers will associate their uniform with getting into the right frame of mind for work. This means that uniform can have a healthy impact on employee performance, as it cognitively primes them and creates that separation between work and home.
Strengthening the corporate brand is a key benefit, which is achieved by garment choice, consistency, colours and decoration. We discuss this in a little more detail later on in this article.
Writing a dress code means you can tailor the uniform specifically to the job at hand, considering not only professionalism but also practicality and comfort. Writing one in which you are clearly looking out for the best interest of all employees can contribute towards a sense of appreciation and job satisfaction.
The disadvantages of a strict dress code
There are a number of organisations where a uniform policy is paramount. However, in companies which do not necessarily require a strict code, enforcing one could have a negative effect. In a work environment where employees don’t need to be told what to wear, because safety, practicality and brand image aren’t an issue, enforcing a set of rules may be perceived as too stifling. Individuals may feel that they are happier and produce better results if they are wearing casual clothing of their own choice.
With this in mind, a strict code could even cause rebellion. Some employees will not take kindly to being told what to wear, and may choose to disregard the rules to prove a point. If the policy doesn’t take the climate, practicality or comfort into consideration, it could foster dissatisfaction among workers and affect productivity. These issues may also arise if the purpose of the policy is not communicated effectively.
Which work dress code should you go for?
There are a number of dress code ‘categories’ that your employees will be familiar with, hence you may decide to define their uniform within these. They include casual, smart casual, business casual, and business. These represent an incline in formality, and you need to establish which is most appropriate for your company.
Other categories are defined by the work environment and the demands of the job, which is where functional or protective workwear forms part of the dress code. This can be determined by workplace factors such as whether they are front-facing or behind the scenes, visiting other companies at their premises, or working outdoors, to name a few.
Whilst it can be tempting to try and enforce the same uniform across all staff, you need to consider which dress code is appropriate to each role. Discussing your policy as part of your recruitment process will ensure that new staff members understand and are happy with the uniform requirements before they start.
Providing a corporate uniform
If you want to portray a consistent image across your marketing, providing employees with a specially designed corporate uniform can be extremely beneficial. It ensures that everyone can be easily identified by customers and other staff members. One way to achieve this is to go for a bold colour, as your choice of colours can reveal a lot about your brand.
You may wish to introduce variations in the uniform based on the team or role, so it’s easy to determine between those with specific responsibilities.
Treat uniform as a fantastic opportunity to boost brand awareness and perception. By adding your company logo and other branding elements to the garments, your staff can act as walking advertisements, especially if they are regularly working in the public eye.
Having staff wearing the same or similar uniforms can enhance the feeling that they are part of a team and are valuable to the organisation. It will also eliminate the stress of trying to adhere to a vague uniform policy which is open to many interpretations. You could even involve employees in the decision process, to ensure you choose a uniform your staff will love and show them you are looking after their best interests.
How to write your uniform policy
Start by explaining the purpose of the uniform policy. For example, is it about maintaining a particular brand image for clients or customers? Or ensuring the safety of employees? Or making staff easily identifiable? It might be all three, or a number of other reasons, but it’s important to get this message across so employees know you aren’t simply enforcing rules for the sake of it.
Next, explain who the policy applies to. It may be for every member of staff, or there may be varying rules depending on their role or the environment they are required to work in.
Then you need to list the rules, being as specific as possible to avoid confusion. It’s much easier to enforce a uniform policy which consists of garments provided by the company. This way there’s no scope for misinterpretation, and staff will be more inclined to conform when the clothing has been given to them.
You may choose to be less specific about the rules if you have opted for a broad dress code such as smart casual or business casual. You should still provide an explanation of what clothing this actually translates to, including examples that fit within your expectations.
You can also include points regarding personal hygiene, footwear, keeping garments clean, and any exceptions to the rules that may apply, such as in extreme weather conditions or at special events.
Lastly, decide how stringently you intend to apply these rules and outline the consequences of employees not following the policy. It may be as lenient as verbal reminders, or as strict as disciplinaries, being asked to return home to change, leading up to termination for repeat offenders. However, always keep in mind the purpose of the policy and remember how important your people are; if non-compliance is not negatively impacting the company or the team, taking such draconian measures may be counterproductive.
In summary, your policy should include:
Who it applies to
The consequences of not conforming
Avoiding discrimination in your uniform policy
When writing your policy it is crucial that you consider all the factors that could prevent an employee from adhering to the rules. Take into account those who dress a certain way for religious reasons. If particular rules interfere with this, but are crucial for safety reasons, they must be justified and communicated respectively.
Reasonable adjustments must also be made where necessary for disabilities, illnesses, allergies, and small or large individuals.
The dress code should not be stricter for one gender over the other. There have been cases where women have been asked to go home because of refusing to wear heels, for example. The rules must apply to both equally, even if the particular garments themselves differ.
If you choose to ask your staff to remove piercings or cover tattoos while at work, you need to justify the reasoning behind it and communicate this carefully and respectfully.