Inappropriate dressing is one of those workplace concerns that is often ignored or forgotten until it becomes a problem. Revealing clothing can be an all-day distraction while a sloppy or untidy employee can project an unprofessional image about the entire company.
Some employees simply don’t get it when it comes to clothing choices for work. Inexperienced employees may walk into their offices wearing miniskirts, low rise jeans, baggy jeans that keep falling off the waist, baseball caps, spaghetti strap tops, low-cut blouses that expose the midriff, sandals, flip-flops, inappropriate tattoos, body piercings, or a three-day stubble.
Sadly, managers often avoid talking about inappropriate clothing because the highly sensitive and personal nature of those discussions makes them uncomfortable, especially when the offending employee is of the other gender.
Letting the problem fester makes the situation worse: each day the offending employee doesn’t hear an objection only reinforces his/her assumption that the clothing is appropriate and increases the prospect of a defensive reaction when a manager decides to finally address the issue.
How to Tell an Employee Who Is Dressed Inappropriately?
Dealing with unprofessional dress can be awkward, but it’s crucial to intervene directly, tactfully, and discretely.
- Begin by having an official company policy on the expected work attire and making employees aware of it. Not only does a dress code set the standards for appropriate clothing, but it also provides a legal basis for addressing a problem without making it an issue of personal judgment. Given the modern-day relaxed rules concerning office attire, try to be specific as possible instead of using vague terms such as “business casual.” One best practice is to include pictures from dress stores for what is appropriate and what is not. Make sure the dress code is consistent with your company and industry’s culture and what your customers expect. Include policies regarding hygiene, personal grooming, tattoos, and piercings. Update the dress code to keep up with the latest professional, social, and fashion trends.
- Meet the offending employee discretely and ask, “Aaron, are you aware of our dress code?” Then, mention the specific instance of the problem, “Some of your clothes are a bit more provocative than appropriate for our workplace.” State facts and not judgments. Relate any rebuke to a business purpose, viz., the need for a professional workplace or dress-appropriateness in customer-facing roles. Ask the employee how he/she could rectify the matter. If necessary, remind that employees must accommodate the employer, not the other way around.
- Be sensitive about religious, cultural, and gender-related aspects of office dressing. A male manager who needs to speak to a female employee (or vice versa) should consider having the problem subtly and discretely addressed through another female employee. Consider including another coworker in the conversation as a witness to prevent a discrimination claim. Seek guidance from human resources.
- If the problem persists, try to converse again but have someone from human resources present.
Idea for Impact: A manager can forestall a great deal of employee problems by being proactive about setting expectations. Managers can and should create an appropriate work environment by defining hard boundaries on office etiquette, respectful interaction, and dress codes and then actively addressing concerns before they become problems.