What not to wear at work

More
employers now want their staff to dress in ‘smart casual’ or ‘business casual’
clothes in the office than wear a suit and tie, according to research published
this week.

Despite
reports of the death of ‘dress down’ days, a survey by IRS Employment Review
discovered that the business suit is increasingly unpopular – and now forms the
basis of dress codes in fewer than half of the country’s offices.

But
while the trend towards more casual clothing continues, employers are becoming
increasingly strict about what is acceptable.

Since
IRS conducted a similar survey three years ago, employers have become more
inclined to include regulations on staff appearance in handbooks, or even
directly in contracts of employment.

Despite
this, there remains confusion about what (not) to wear at work, with the status
of denim, chinos and t-shirts hard fought over.

And
with half of employers setting dress guidelines for staff, what you wear at
work is less likely to be a personal statement than a reflection of the image
that your employer wants to present. 

The
findings are based on responses from 85 HR departments (representing 183
different employee groups) across the private and public sectors. They
include: 


The desire to reinforce company culture has become a key determinant of dress
codes


64 out of 85 (75 per cent) respondents operate a dress and/or appearance policy
for at least some of their employees


60 out of 183  (almost 33 per cent)
employee groups have regulations or guidelines in a staff handbook forming part
of the employment contract


48 employee groups (26.2 per cent) out of 183 rely on written guidelines that
do not form part of the contract of employment (this used to be the most
popular approach by employers three years ago)


22 employee groups (12 per cent) now have the more formal approach with
employers writing regulations directly into contracts of employment


Just 4 per cent  (seven employee groups
out of 183) now rely on an informal expectation that people will wear the right
clothing

With
the exception of workers who wear a uniform, 44 per cent of employee groups
have the ‘suit/formal business attire’ as their dress code while 42 per cent
adopt ‘smart casual’ and 13 per cent wear ‘relaxed’ clothes.

More
than half the organisations taking part said that their dress codes were either
smart casual or relaxed – relegating the formal business suit to minority
status.

Why
have a clothes policy?


Health and safety was cited by 36 organisations (out of 85), particularly in a
manufacturing environment.  Hygiene was
also cited by 21 organisations


Almost a third 28 out of 85 (32.9 per cent) respondents chose the new category
‘to reinforce culture’ as a factor for adopting a dress code policy


As employees begin to dress in a more relaxed way, this in turn makes it more
likely that employers will police their policies more closely.  Fifteen (17.6 per cent) respondents reported
that they had dealt with one or more cases in which employees were disciplined
for failing to comply


Of the respondents who talked about non-compliance, it is almost fairly evenly
split between those employers who were prepared to give exemptions or relax the
rules under some circumstances. These would be on religious grounds or for
medical reasons.  


24 out of 85 (28.2 per cent) respondents reported that their policy had changed
over the past three years


27 out of 85 (31.7 per cent) reported a change in attitudes

IRS
Employment Review
managing editor, Mark Crail said: “The death of dress
down days in the workplace has been greatly exaggerated – and chinos and smart
polo shirts are increasingly the norm. Our findings show that while flip-flops,
football shorts and bare midriffs are still almost always unacceptable, only a
minority now wear a business suit. But the meaning of smart casual or business
casual can differ markedly from one workplace to the next, so there is
considerable confusion about what employers expect."

Attempts
by some City banks to re-impose formal business dress have been widely reported,
but they do not represented the trend in most workplaces.

Indeed,
employers need to be aware of dissent in the ranks; employees can rebel if they
feel they are being treated unfairly, and the Human Rights Act 1998, which
incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law, can have some
bearing on the subject of dress and appearance codes.

By Ben Willmott

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