Setting the standard

The concept of professional work attire has evolved dramatically over the past 12 months as COVID-19 emptied offices and had us all working from home. But, with organisations welcoming team members back to the workplace after months of being more flexible (Melbourne, we’ll get back there soon), is the idea of a ‘dress code’ still relevant? For leaders and business owners, establishing standards on how their employees should represent their brand remains as challenging as ever.

New approaches to
establishing workplace attire

Dress codes exist for many important reasons. They establish how each employee represents a brand and influence the organisational culture and team productivity.

Finding a happy medium between employee satisfaction and setting dress code expectations can be tricky for employers. One study by Rowan University found that half of those surveyed felt productivity decreased when dress codes became more casual, although overall team morale improved.

To boost employee engagement, organisations need to find new ways to balance attire policies that are inclusive yet still professional while being responsive to ever-evolving workplace norms. This requires a unique approach to establishing workplace attire guidelines.

Communicate your ‘why’

As a professional image stylist, I’ve seen many companies create broad dress codes with terms such as “smart casual” or “business attire” attempting to address the modern workplace environment. And if you’re shrugging your shoulders and wondering what these terms mean, you’re not alone. Many employees find such vague terms difficult to interpret, while organisations struggle to implement them.

My advice to companies attempting to create a dress code that fits, is to communicate the ‘why’ to your employees. Explaining how your dress code matches your evolving corporate culture makes it clear to employees that your organisation is striving towards excellent working conditions and fostering a healthy work environment. Employees will personally benefit from the boost in personal confidence and growth that comes from developing a more acute understanding of professional presentation skills.

Keep it simple

Don’t overcomplicate things either. As I mentioned earlier, unclear dress codes can be confusing. Empower your employees to dress in a way that reflects your brand’s values by keeping things simple and allows flexibility of self-expression of employees. Simply consider what’s important to both the organisation and to the employee. This will help you strike that beautiful balance of employee satisfaction and brand representation.

Encourage staff input

Dress codes influence workplace culture and employee productivity. Getting buy-in from your employees on appropriate attire will help foster a positive workplace culture. This collaborative approach to workplace attire demonstrates how your organisation values their employees, which in turn will keep them engaged and productive.

How Leaders influence and nurture their teams’ aesthetics.

For those in leadership roles, a compelling, successful professional image is a composite of appearance and behaviour. Perhaps it is the quality and styling of clothing that people see first; however, grooming, etiquette, character, and effective communication are all a part of the personal brand you project. Your personal brand can influence the productivity and quality of work from your employees, and can also influence the aesthetic of your team.  

Leaders are role models, and employees use the behaviour of those in higher-level positions as a guide for how they should act in the workplace. That means leaders need to walk the walk and present in attire that’s expected of their employees.

Remember you are the general, the coach, the head of the pack. Your professional image determines the way others perceive you. It can impact your effectiveness and power within any business or social setting. It deserves as much attention and consideration as any other aspect of your professional development.

This is important for business owners to consider as  your decorum really is an extension of your organisation’s branding strategy. And the way your employees present themselves in and out of the workplace is what sets your brand apart from your competitors.

My advice to leaders who want to influence their team’s aesthetic is:

  • Dress in clothing that is aspirational and distinguishable as you set yourself apart and go above and beyond normal expectations. It’s important that while displaying this style, that you excel in approachability with personality. Remember the aim is to set a standard that employees can mirror in their own individual way.
  • Dress to reflect the culture of your organisation. You are as much an ambassador of your company as your employees, so show them how it’s done whilst still honouring your personal image guidelines. 

  • Bring a little personality to the table to communicate inclusivity and individuality. An authentic but professional wardrobe will demonstrate to employees that although they are dressing according to company expectations, they are still considered valued individuals.

  • Dress in attire that gives you confidence. If you are confident in what you wear, your team will have more confidence in you and follow suit

Managing poor presentation issues in the team

When it comes to clothing , office environments have a long-standing tradition of formality, but for most, power suits and ties are a thing of the past. Establishing, reassessing, and reiterating your workplace dress codes is essential to maintaining a culture that evolves but still reflects company brand. .

Each employee’s professional image determines the way your brand and organisation are perceived by your customers and the public. Employees are the most valuable asset to an organisation; however, perceptions of professionalism can differ amongst team members.

My advice for business owners managing poor presentation issues in the team is to follow these simple tips:

  • Put together a lookbook to minimise misinterpretation.

  • Provide constructive feedback and restate expectations to team members with poor presentation. By engaging the employee in the conversation and providing them with useful advice, they feel less targeted and part of the solution.

  • Revisit your dress code and review what’s ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ and make notes about the infractions that have come to your attention.

  • Be consistent with your dress code policy, this will also help foster a healthy office culture with employees feeling comfortable knowing that everyone must abide by the same guidelines.

  • Send out reminders or updates to your team. With workplace attire continuing to evolve, your organisation’s dress code standards must be updated to reflect changing norms. Reminders can address updates while also tactfully nudging employees on workplace attire expectations.