Weighing-In On Work Wear: Gaining clarity on office dress code

 Posted on 08-31-2017, by:Sandra Lavoy Robert Half

Office formalities are often relaxed as temperatures rise, including the tendency for business casual attire to get even more casual. But while warm weather may signal a more comfortable workplace environment, it shouldn’t indicate an unprofessional one.

As workplaces continue to evolve, and ‘traditional’ attire becomes increasingly less popular, companies need to think twice before they admonish employees who come to work looking less professional than they’d like. The problem is, office dress codes can be rather ambiguous so it leaves employees trying to figure out what “work clothes” really means. Flip flops – yea or nay? Shorts? Yoga pants? Probably not, but without some solid attire parameters, many workers are left flying blind.

Research indicates that clothing confusion is becoming more common in Canadian workplaces. In a new Robert Half Finance & Accounting survey, 74 per cent of Canadian CFOs said their accounting and finance departments have a casual dress code. In addition, a recent OfficeTeam survey showed 63 per cent of Canadian workers said they prefer to wear more relaxed work attire, yet 28 per cent admitted they’re at least sometimes unsure about whether clothing is office-appropriate.

While office dress rules are bending, unspoken expectations are still alive and well, and there are limits to what passes as acceptable office attire. A laid-back look may be trending in the office this summer, but it’s definitely not an excuse to show up looking like you’re heading to the beach right after work.

Many companies have moved beyond full-on corporate uniformity to business casual, and welcome individualized interpretations of office attire. Traditional business wear, such as suits, long-sleeved dress shirts and ties, and tailored dresses and stockings, have been replaced at some firms by casual khakis and flats and relaxed cuts.

In some flexible workplaces, ultra casual is in and t-shirts and jeans are the norm from executives on down. These changes don’t work for every organization, though: A law firm is going to have very different dress expectations than a small tech start-up.

It’s important to remember that how employees present themselves to a company’s customers and other stakeholders is a direct reflection of its brand and reputation. What people wear is often conflated with other attributes, such as attention to detail, professionalism and service.

Showcasing professionalism and confidence starts at the top — employees take their cues from management on expectations in dress styles. That’s why leaders must not only set clear standards and codes around acceptable attire, but serve as role models as well.

Work attire expectations for employees need to be clearly connected to the work they are doing and cannot reflect stereotypes or prejudices. It’s important to strive for a balance between self-expression and comfort and the company’s need to accomplish its business goals.

Written policies should be given to the employee at the time of hiring. Enforcing the dress code consistently and fairly with clarification and not criticism will help ensure quick resolution to uncertainty or infractions. From time to time, disagreements may arise with regard to interpretation or violation of the code so it’s essential that all dress code policies provide a mechanism for resolution.

Meanwhile, keeping things casual in the summer may work around most offices, but appearances still need to be polished, approachable and industry-appropriate. L&C

Author Bio
Sandra Lavoy is the Regional Vice-President for Robert Half Sandra has spent 20 years of her professional life in the recruitment industry and has experienced all phases of the job market cycle first-hand. 


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