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Guide to creating a foolproof employee uniform policy

14/07/2019

Your business has locked in a new uniform and you're ready to roll it out to your employees, but there's one important thing missing - a solid uniform policy.

Many professions require a uniform to safely do the job, such as scrubs for nurses or a skull cap for a chef, whereas others have expectations of corporate attire to uphold, such as lawyers or bankers.

Unfortunately, just because a uniform is what your workplace requires, that doesn't mean your employees are going to happily oblige.

In this guide, we'll outline the best practice for implementing a successful uniform policy, some important things to consider along the way, and the best way to clear up any miscommunications.

When do uniform policies fail?

The best place to start when creating your new dress code, is understanding where they typically fail in workplaces.

It's no surprise that people tend to dislike dress codes. We all like to wake up in the morning, put on what's most comfortable and express our personal style. When a dress code threatens this freedom, sometimes people can feel begrudged towards their employer.

For this reason, it's important to get everyone in the business on board and committed or the policy will fail.

To get everyone on board, we've got to first understand typical grievances.

Policies Fail When:

  • there is widespread belief that there's no real need for a policy to exist
  • the uniform was enforced without real consideration of employees needs
  • managers aren't leading by example
  • the commitment to enforcing the policy is low priority
  • the policy is inconsistently administered and followed

Have a good reason behind your dress code

The main takeaway we can learn from the common reasons that dress codes fail, is that it's really important to have a good reason behind the change. Consider why you're implementing a dress code, and make sure that you communicate the logical reasoning behind your company's choice.

For example:

  • You want to present as professional and uphold a corporate status or the status quo for your industry. In this instance, it'd be a good idea to discuss how appearance effects impressions and service in your industry, so that your staff understand and are on board.
  • Safety is another key reason you may need a dress code. If your employees do labour intensive work, and need to wear protective gear such as closed shoes, hats or aprons for their safety, make sure to communicate this. People who work in construction, food preparation, or medical jobs are legally required to wear certain clothing to keep themselves and others safe - that's a brilliant reason for a dress code.
  • A dress code as a marketing strategy is also a fair reason to wear a uniform. Perhaps you're looking to get your brand out there, establish a point of difference or present a united, branded front to your customer base. Make sure to explain your strategy to your staff, so they don't think it's for no reason.
  • 'Work appropriate' wear is the grey area that a lot of companies struggle with. If you're not required to wear corporate clothing, and you don't have a dress code established, there's a high chance your employees might take liberties on the definition of 'work appropriate'. Clearing that up is a fair reason to implement a dress codes.

If employees can understand the need, and the reasoning behind your decision is clearly communicated, they'll be far more likely to commit to the change.

You're ready to write your uniform policy - what should you include?

You've considered the reasons why your employees might be opposed to a new dress code, and you've explained clearly the reason behind the policy change - now you're ready to write your policy.

Here are a few tips to take into account when drafting your policy:

  • It's okay to have different rules for different roles. If your company is multi-faceted with different roles and teams, sometimes a 'one-size-fits-all' approach isn't always the best. Consider creating a policy that's tailored to each team and suits their needs. For example, there's no point making a waitress wear a chef's cap, or a chef wear a front of house badge.
  • Always ask for a second opinion. Having a chat to your employees and getting a gauge on what they think is fair is a great place to start. Make sure to get feedback on your proposed policy before bringing it into play officially. This way, your employees will likely respect your decision more and feel valued in the process, and you'll have a better understanding of what needs to be included - after all, no one knows your uniform better than the people who wear it every day.
  • Be precise with language. The words 'smart-casual' and 'semi-formal' are entirely open to interpretation. One person's 'smart-casual' is another persons 'at home wear'. For this reason, avoid ambiguous terminology and be really specific on what's okay and what isn't in your policy.
  • Document it. There's no point in telling everyone the new policy and not writing it down. Always have a documented policy in your employment handbook for people to refer back to in case specifics ever come into question.
  • Set out the consequences. One of the main reasons that employees don't follow the rules when it comes to uniforms is because there's no real consequence. Make sure you clearly write in your policy the consequences, and follow through.

Making a fair policy

Of course, one of the trickier aspects of creating a uniform policy is making sure that it's fair and not in any way discriminatory. For the most part, companies have quite free rein on setting employee dress codes, but here are a few things we'd recommend looking out for.

  • Religion. Businesses can't ask employees not to wear religious apparel, unless it directly put their safety at risk.
  • Gender. It's okay for some differences to occur across genders, for example, men may be required to wear a tie and women may not. The main concern is making sure that it's not unfair to one gender, or give another gender an advantage. Where ever possible, try and make sure your expectations are fair.

We'd always recommend having a legal team look over your proposed policy, and making sure there are no loop holes or discriminatory language.

Your policy is ready, what now?

Once you've written your policy and had a third party look over it, you're ready to take it to your team!

Make sure you communicate the changes, and the reasons for then clearly. Cover expectations, consequences, and make sure to print out a copy of the policy for your staff members. We'd also recommend incorporating your clear dress code into your employees contract. This way, they'll be sure of your expectations when they sign to join your company, and you can refer back to this if any disputes arise.

If you've taken into consideration their wants and needs, and drafted a fair policy for a good reason, your team are likely to get behind the idea.

 

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