Marketwired Blog

How to establish your corporate dress code

By Kelli Korducki


Employee presentation is a key ingredient in projecting a organization’s identity to the outside world.  But, while most companies will be clear on dress code standards, more personal areas of grooming—specifically, hairstyle—are often left undefined. Sure, a simple Google search might clear up an employee’s understanding of the ins and outs of “business casual,” but it’s less likely that internet research will lead an employee to definitive answers on, say, the acceptability of neon highlights in their specific workplace. Communicating hairstyle expectations is a responsibility that falls squarely on employers. Here are five tips for getting the message across:


1.)    Establish an identity.


Sue Kathler, HR Consulting Vice President at Winnipeg-based People First HR Services, says it’s essential that employers have a fully-developed picture of their unique corporate brand in order to best present themselves to the marketplace. Specifically, employers should have a clear idea of what business they are in, what service they are providing, who is being served, and what is needed in order to serve those clients.
“Then they need to come up with corporate policies that align with a corporate brand,” says Kathler. “Dress policy would be one of those, and then embedded with that would be elements of hairstyle.”


2.)    Create an employee handbook.


“Employers really should have a policy relative to dress code and dress expectations, and so many employers eliminate the hair part of it because they forget about it,” says Amy Letke, founder and CEO of Integrity HR in Louisville, Kentucky. Letke recommends that employers put together an employee handbook that outlines expectations around wardrobe and grooming to help minimize misunderstandings.


3.)    Express expectations clearly.


According to Kathler, corporate dress policy should address some very specific questions. “What do we dress like in our organization? Are we business attire everyday? And if we are casual, what exactly do we mean by casual?” It’s essential to nail definitions down to a T, especially when getting into potentially dicey elements of personal appearance like hairstyle.


4.)    Be respectful and inclusive.


“If people that have hairstyles that may not be what certain people might consider to be appropriate, but is in keeping with a belief structure or another culture, or religious requirement, employers need to be respectful of that,” says Kathler.  “Leaders need to be aware that their definition of what might be appropriate has to be broadened in certain circumstances to ensure they’re not unintentionally treating someone in an inappropriate way.”


5.)    Be mindful of generational differences.


Letke recalls a client whose receptionist caused a minor stir when she began experimenting with blue streaks in her hair. Their office environment was a conservative one; surely, this employee should have known better. But, should she?


“We do find generational differences, to a certain degree,” says Letke, accounting for communication gaps between employers and employees. “Whether it’s hairstyle or piercings or tattoos, employers really don’t enjoy having those expectation discussions with their employees. But not having it clearly spelled out as a policy or guideline really does create a lot of problems.”

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