By Gillian Armour, AICI CIP
Here in San Francisco there is a big kerfuffle going on between city workers in the court system and their bosses. These court employees have been asked to step up their appearance, to be more presentable while on their jobs (i.e.: no flip-flops, sweatshirts, tank tops, shorts etc.). Their bosses have invoked a 1996 dress code that has been in place all these years but in recent times has not been enforced. Now it is being enforced and employees are not happy about it. They like their casual ways and wonder why no-one has ever said anything before. Do you think their employer (the people’s court) has a right to ask employees to dress better?
Here are a few of the reactions as reported in the press:
“If there is anything I hate, it is wearing a stuffy shirt and tie. This mode of attire is uncomfortable, old-fashioned, stodgy and a leftover from a completely bygone era.”
“If I had business at the court, I would not want to be confronted by a clerk who is dressed as though he is going mountain-climbing.”
“Perhaps dressing up for work is old-fashioned, but it is the least we should expect from these people who have good jobs while others are frantically searching for a job.”
And from an attorney: “I would like to voice my strong support for any effort that results in the appearance of judges, attorneys and court room staff looking and acting as professional as possible.”
He goes on to say: “Looking professional is not “old-fashioned” but instead shows respect for all persons who come before the courts…” and I say – well said!
As a working image consultant I know that my clients (both individual and corporate) deal with this issue on a day to day basis. They complain about the lax attitudes in dress standards where they work siting examples that cause an eye roll or two! Both my corporate and individual clients want a solution so we get to work. One of the first questions I ask is “do you have a dress code at work?” And the answer is usually the same – no. And sometimes, though rarely, “yes, but it’s never enforced.”
Well here’s the thing - if a company doesn’t have a valid dress code in place they have no recourse to admonish their employees who show up in the über casual styles of today. If, however, an appropriate, modern dress code is in place and reviewed with each new hire and all employees are required to adhere to it, then the workplace image is maintained. Studies have shown that the appearance of employees impacts the bottom line profit margins of companies. Clients like to see respectful attire on the firm’s employees and respond to this respect with positive emotions. We all know that a happy client makes a happy business.
As image consultants this is a valuable niche market for us. I have helped firms write appropriate and modern interpretations of dress codes. Some firms ask for dress casual guidelines, others for traditional executive dress standards. If you are consulting to executives, businesses, political entities or government offices then writing dress codes should be in your skill set.