Is your dress code policy damaging employee development?

Appearance — even if it shouldn’t — can affect how an employee is viewed in the workplace.

More than half of employees (56 percent) acknowledge they make assumptions about coworkers based on how they’re dressed, according to a survey.

Peers aren’t the only ones judging each other’s outfits. Eight out of 10 executives say work clothes affect an employee’s chances of getting a promotion, according to a survey from admin temp service OfficeTeam.

A company’s management team may be able to take steps to overcome any bias that results from an employee’s appearance; customers and other office visitors, however, may not be as forgiving — which is a concern. No company wants the sloppy work clothes an employee is wearing to imply the organization’s efforts are anything less than high-quality.

A company dress code policy can help identify the type of work clothes that convey a sense of professionalism.  To successfully stop fashion infractions, however, your dress code policy needs to be more than just a mass email advising employees to wear appropriate business casual attire (or other apparel).

The following tips can help you take a solid stance on suitable work clothes — one that will benefit both employer and employee:

  • Make sure everyone is on the same page. Business casual attire is the most popular employee dress code policy choice; but the term can be widely interpreted, so it’s important to clearly define how management views casual. ( survey respondents generally described business casual attire as dress slacks or khaki pants and a tucked-in button-down shirt, which can be a good place to start.) To ensure employees understand your dress code policy expectations, outline what work clothes you classify as casual in a definitive document. Make the dress code policy guide available in multiple formats — such as in print and on a company-wide intranet — so employees can refer to it when needed.
  • Don’t automatically assume you know what employees want. Business casual attire may be the most popular option; your organization (or individual office), though, may feel differently. Nearly a quarter of workers feel their dress code policy is too lenient. Nine percent encourage formal dress. Gauge workers’ overall sentiment with an enterprise-wide employee survey.
  • Don’t be afraid to ban certain work clothes. Nearly two-thirds of companies won’t let workers wear flip flops, and 49 percent are anti-miniskirt, according to CareerBuilder. Jeans are forbidden by 28 percent of employers.

If your organization hasn’t ever had a dress code policy policy in place, the way you announce it can influence whether employees happily or begrudgingly accept it.

The key is to present your policy as a positive move — designed to improve the company’s image, potentially leading to business growth and, as a result, employees’ personal gain — instead of a decree to go out and buy new work clothes.

Before you formally introduce your new dress code policy, find out what steps to take to successfully communicate the change and how to ensure your communication and policies are consistent in remote locations — if your organization is spread out between different cities, countries or even continents.