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Blog - How to manage inappropriate dress at work

How to manage inappropriate dress at work

Posted by Stella Chandler 13/05/16

Work Attire

The recent “Shoegate” incident when temp worker Nicola Thorp was sent home for not wearing high heels has put the issues around appropriate and inappropriate dress at work firmly back in the spotlight.

It nearly always arises when we hit sunny weather when the “when is a flip flop actually a sandal“ argument rears its head!

So we thought it may be a good time to revisit some guidelines around how to deal with a team member who is inappropriately dressed for work (which could be anything from being too casual - T-shirts, rather than shirts - to revealing a bit too much)

So how to start?

  • Check the organisation’s dress code policy – most organisations have one – so you have a clear benchmark to refer to in your conversation
  • Often what is included in a code can be quite open to interpretation – one person’s interpretation of “smart casual” can be very different to another – so be prepared to give examples eg no T-shirts with slogans, no low cut tops (ideally these should be added to the policy)
  • It is a good idea to ask teams to think through the “minimum standards” they think they should have on their team. This can bring out all sorts of areas, such as covering workloads when someone is away, time keeping – and attire. What do they all think is acceptable and not in terms of clothing? You mostly find they will set the limits you would want
  • Ensure there is no justifiable reason for the attire eg a disability/religious reason. If the lax approach to dress is accompanied by other examples of inappropriate behaviour at work, it may be a symptom of more general demotivation. Use open questions to find out how the person is feeling about work generally as there may be issues, which need airing and addressing
  • As with any tricky conversation, identify what you want the outcome to be, to help you plan what you will say
  • If you have a behavioural framework or a set of values, link the conversation back to these standards eg “Professional” and ask the team member to think about what “professional appearance” looks like
  • Use specific examples in your feedback so there is no ambiguity around what is OK and what isn’t
  • One way to raise awareness around the impact of dress at work is to ask the team member what image other people may have of them when they wear “inappropriate” clothes (especially their clients)
  • Agree the changes you want to see and set an expectation of “with immediate effect”
  • Ensure you are role modelling what you expect others to do!

For more guidance to help you resolve your difficult people problems at work have a look at the range of support  we can offer or phone us/email us for a confidential chat 01903 732 782

Stella Chandler
Stella Chandler

I thrive on seeing people do things they didn’t think they could do! I draw on my management and leadership experience from working in senior positions in the Metropolitan Police Service, running Focal Point since 2002 and working across all three sectors in the widest variety of environments. Because we rarely learn things first time, we believe it is vital to provide support before, during and after the events we run, in order to get the best from them. Time and time again people have told us how the chance to review their learning and to have their actions reinforced has really helped cement new ways of doing things. This is what has then made the difference that they and we are looking for. I am a fellow of the CIPD and when I am not working with clients I can be seen on the golf courses of Hampshire.

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