Why is Having a Work Uniforms Policy So Important for UK Businesses?
Few people will have escaped the recent headlines about Jessica Anderson, a nurse who ran the 2019 London marathon. On April 28th, Jessica beat the current Guinness World Record (GWR) of running the marathon in a nurse’s uniform by 32 seconds, but was initially disqualified because her clothing did not meet its criteria of a “nurse’s uniform”.
GWR rules stipulated that a nurse’s uniform must include a blue and white dress, a white pinafore apron and a traditional white nurse’s cap. This came as a shock to many, including Jessica, who pointed out that the majority of her nursing contemporaries wear scrubs or trousers and that male nurses are rarely seen in dresses. The GWR has since conceded that “our guidelines for the fastest marathon wearing a nurse’s uniform were outdated, incorrect and reflected a stereotype we do not in any way wish to perpetuate.”
Glen Smith, Marketing Manager at WISE Worksafe, commented, “In my opinion, Jessica was wearing a correct uniform — it seems that GWR was unfair to reject her record.” Citing an image in the press of a male runner in a fancy dress nurses outfit, Glen continued, “It’s definitely more of a nurse’s uniform than the pinafore that other runner was wearing! The irony is that such an outfit was closer to the original GWR criteria than Jessica’s scrubs.”
It would seem that the majority would also agree. Shortly after news of the Guinness World Record attempt broke, nurses flocked to social media posing in their scrubs with the hashtag #WhatNursesWear, with one male nurse humorously claiming, “I’ve never worn a dress, at least not to work!”
Jessica’s story highlights the importance of having a robust work uniforms policy that is fair and continually updated. It’s not enough to write a policy and file it away, never to be looked at again. To avoid embarrassments such as those faced by the GWR committee, you should continually review your policy and amend it in light of changing cultural norms, legal requirements and your workforce.
Does My Business Need a Work Uniforms Policy?
Why Is It So Important
Dress codes and uniforms may be implemented for a variety of reasons, from increasing brand awareness to maintaining safety standards. Regardless of why you stipulate what your employees can wear, a policy is important because it ensures that everyone is treated equally and expectations are clearly set out. The previous GWR specification that a female nurse must wear a dress to qualify for the marathon record is outdated and discriminatory — the same was not expected of male nurses. Where there is a perception that people are being treated differently based on gender or other characteristics, there is a high risk of employee dissatisfaction and disruption, or even legal action. Employees who understand what is expected of them and feel they are being treated with equality and fairness in the workplace are more likely to have a healthy level of morale and productivity. As a result, you are also likely to receive fewer complaints.
Additionally, uniforms can create a sense of professionalism and put people in the right working mindset, leading to better results and a more positive brand reputation. Uniforms create a strong brand image and increase a customer’s trust in a company. Where uniform policies exist to keep workers safe, for example, those that require PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) like hi-vis or safety footwear to be worn, a policy sets out clear expectations of when and where these items are appropriate.
What Should I Include in a Work Uniform Policy?
This will vary between workplaces, but there are a few fundamental elements that should be included in all staff uniform and workwear policies:
Set out the purpose of your policy - Is it to maintain brand image, ensure safety or something else? Employees will see more value in rules that have a clear purpose and reasoning, making them more likely to adhere to them.
Explain who the policy applies to - Uniform rules may apply only to specific groups in a workplace, such as customer-facing staff on a shop floor. Make sure this is clear in your policy and explain the reasons behind such distinctions. The policy must be logical and fair.
Be specific and use simple language - You can’t expect people to stick to rules they don’t understand. Are there specific events or times you expect staff to wear uniform? Are different items of clothing to be worn depending on the task being undertaken? Make your expectations clear and don’t fall down the rabbit hole of using ambiguous corporate jargon.
Clarify any exceptions to the rules - In certain situations, you may be willing to forgo the work uniform rules set out in the policy. Would you really expect your staff to work outside in short-sleeved branded t-shirts in extreme cold weather conditions? It’s impossible to predict every eventuality, but be as clear as possible and amend your policy as you go to account for various scenarios.
Stipulate the consequences of non-compliance - If your policy makes uniform mandatory or stipulates a strict dress code, you must outline the disciplinary procedure for those who fail to adhere to it. This will generally be progressive — if an employee repeatedly flouts the rules, the consequences will be more severe than for a member of staff who forgets their work jacket on one occasion.
Don’t Put off Writing or Reviewing Your Policy
There never seems to be enough hours in the working day, so writing or reviewing your work uniform policy may be far down your list of priorities. However, if you have any kind of dress code for your workers, no matter how broad, it’s important to give your employees a clear idea of what is expected and highlight that your workplace is an environment where fairness and equality are valued. The swift u-turn made by the GWR committee emphasised the outdated and unfair nature of its previous rules. By constantly reviewing your policy, you can avoid similar embarrassment and prevent more serious consequences, such as employee complaints and legal action.
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