Wardrobe rules


It told women to don  flesh coloured underwear and  suggested men  apply moisturiser daily. When investment bank UBS   released a now-famed   44-page employee dress-code manifesto, it was internationally mocked, forcing the Swiss bank to “review what was important”.

The issue of what to wear to work – and just how far employers can go in guiding staff on appearance – can be divisive.

In Australia, hire-car company Hertz tried to make its call-centre staff – many of whom are casual, on  award  wages and   don’t see customers –  wear  a  suit   and   restrict  the length of necklaces to  no  more than 45cm. The 2011 policy was fought by the Australian Services Union, which forced the company to back down.

Lawyer Stephen Trew, a partner in the workplace relations and safety group at Holding Redlich, says companies are well within their rights to enforce dress codes  as a condition of employment.

“The only restriction is that it  is a lawful and  reasonable direction which applies to all workers,” he says.  In practice, he says,  “you have got to carry the hearts and minds of the employees, so that they understand it, buy into  it and  follow it”.

Branding expert Nichola Dearn agrees. She says staff need to feel good  in  the  clothes they wear to  work. “Behaviourally, how do you make employees live the brand?” she asks.  “A lot of that comes from the way that you  dress them. It’s to do with their self-confidence: if they feel good about it, they tend to believe in  it  a little bit  more. [For example] if you put them in a baggy green shirt, are   they really going to feel like fresh-food people?”

At Dearn’s place   of work – the   Sydney branch of international branding agency Landor – corporate attire raises eyebrows. “If the creative director turns up in  a suit, the client asks ‘are you going to see a banker afterwards?’,” says  Dearn, who is herself a creative director. The dress code is generally jeans and  a T-shirt but  can  extend to shorts and  thongs in summer.

However, when it comes to her clients, Dearn says companies are right to enforce dress codes, particularly for businesses that require a uniform. “You’re really projecting the   essence of your brand through what your staff   are   wearing,”  she says. “Sometimes its subliminal, sometimes it’s very, very obvious.”

That  is the  argument of RailCorp in NSW, which began cracking down on  grooming late  last  year, ordering unshaven staff  not to clock  on  and  banning sunglasses from “resting on top  of head, … hat or cap”. Banished, too, were rolled up sleeves. Critics argued that the move was a waste of money, especially for train drivers who are generally unseen by the public.

The issue  of clothing crops up in branding conversations with Dearn’s clients, who are often seeking to reposition their brand. “We do  say  ‘have you  thought about changing the  way  you  dress,’ or  allowing a bit  more flexibility, or  just  having something that is a little bit  quirky, or has  a bit  of a twist?’,” says Dearn.

Staff uniforms are usually widely accepted says  Trew, however, appropriate business dress is a much greyer area. “Even within a single  workforce, the  understanding of what’s  appropriate  and   what’s  not can vary,” he says.

Hairstyles, piercings and  tattoos can be problematic for  many companies. In  June, Air New  Zealand  was criticised  for terminating the  interview of a potential air hostess after she  revealed she  had  a tattoo on her  lower forearm. The airline argued it had   a  policy  of  staff   not   having  visible tattoos. But the  job applicant accused the airline of having double standards because the tattoo was a ta moko, a traditional Maori tattoo, similar to that which the  airline uses on its own logo.

Last  year, Victoria Police  tightened their dress policy, banning beards and  ponytails as  well   as  jewellery and   makeup, stating “how you  present yourself …  can  have  as much impact upon the  professional image and  reputation of the  organisation as your actions”.

A group of police officers is fighting the ban, pursuing the  issue  through a tribunal. Less seriously, Adelaide folk-rock band The Beards  – whose songs  are  based entirely on celebrating facial hair  – were quick to issue a press release, encouraging “all members of the  Victorian Police  Force, and  also  people

everywhere, to  grow beards in  protest.,, We see what [Victoria Police  Commissioner] Ken  Lay  is trying to  do  and  we  will  not  be held   down. He  may  not  be  able  to  grow a beard, but  we can.”

There  hasn’t  been  a  national  sprouting of  facial  hair   in  response, although beards have   become somewhat more on-trend  in recent years.

Beards  aside, there is  a widespread belief that it’s women who struggle more with the issue  of what to wear to work than men because they have  so many fashion options, not  all of them good.

“You get told  what’s appropriate to wear to work but  when you  go to the  stores, it’s different,” says  Melbourne auditor and business fashion blogger Cheryl Lin, of businesschic.com.au. For example, stores typically carry lower-cut tops  than many workplaces would deem appropriate.

There’s also  the  skirts-versus-pants dilemma, which is far from dead, according to a UK study conducted by the  University of Hertfordshire.  It   found  that  women  who wear skirts in the  workplace are  rated more highly on confidence, salary and  flexibility than those who wear pant suits. The professor who co-led the  research argued that the results contradicted previous studies that suggested women  should  dress  more  like men in order to succeed in business.

Faced   with  changing  standards,  fast fashion and  personal preference, businesses would be better off avoiding being too prescriptive about how their employees present themselves, Trew  says.

Clear  visual examples of  the  type of  look that is required are often more effective than a long list of dos and  don’ts, says Trew.

Be too prescriptive and you run the risk that employees will rail against an inflexible approach, and find loopholes anyway. “There is  no  way  you  can  articulate and  prescribe every  situation  and   scenario,”  Trew   says. “You have  to present examples and an overall objective that  you   are   looking to  achieve. Keep an eagle eye on whoever has drafted the policy and  make sure  they haven’t gone  too far and  lost a bit of perspective.”

Despite reports  of  casual  Friday disappearing and  stories of the  younger generation   dressing   more   conservatively at work, another recent UK study found that only  one  in 10 employees wears a suit  every day.  Of the  2000  people surveyed by  online bank First Direct, more than a third said they opted for jeans  and  only 18 per cent regularly wore a tie.

As  for  the   UBS  dress  policy,  it  did   have one  defender. A work commentator for the Financial Times, Lucy Kellaway, wrote in her column: “Clad  in  my  sloppy flannel pyjamas and  fleece  dressing gown, I’m  looking again at  the  UBS booklet and  thinking how crisp those lovely  shirts look  and  marvelling at the wisdom of the advice.”

This article was originally written by Carolyn Boyd for the August edition of HRmonthly where the article first appeared.

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That’s a skillful answer to a diulcifft question

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I have been pulled up several times at work for dressing inappropriate. Not wearing makeup was one, i was told i have to wear flat shoes (im an office worker), and even told on casual friday that my thick strapped, loose, high necked singlet top was too revealing and i wasn’t to show my shoulders i was then even instructed to either go buy a cardigan to cover myself or go home. Yet my own manager constantly wears 4inch heels and skirts so short you can see her underwear when she sits down. Its not just a work standard that… Read more »

More on HRM

Wardrobe rules


It told women to don  flesh coloured underwear and  suggested men  apply moisturiser daily. When investment bank UBS   released a now-famed   44-page employee dress-code manifesto, it was internationally mocked, forcing the Swiss bank to “review what was important”.

The issue of what to wear to work – and just how far employers can go in guiding staff on appearance – can be divisive.

In Australia, hire-car company Hertz tried to make its call-centre staff – many of whom are casual, on  award  wages and   don’t see customers –  wear  a  suit   and   restrict  the length of necklaces to  no  more than 45cm. The 2011 policy was fought by the Australian Services Union, which forced the company to back down.

Lawyer Stephen Trew, a partner in the workplace relations and safety group at Holding Redlich, says companies are well within their rights to enforce dress codes  as a condition of employment.

“The only restriction is that it  is a lawful and  reasonable direction which applies to all workers,” he says.  In practice, he says,  “you have got to carry the hearts and minds of the employees, so that they understand it, buy into  it and  follow it”.

Branding expert Nichola Dearn agrees. She says staff need to feel good  in  the  clothes they wear to  work. “Behaviourally, how do you make employees live the brand?” she asks.  “A lot of that comes from the way that you  dress them. It’s to do with their self-confidence: if they feel good about it, they tend to believe in  it  a little bit  more. [For example] if you put them in a baggy green shirt, are   they really going to feel like fresh-food people?”

At Dearn’s place   of work – the   Sydney branch of international branding agency Landor – corporate attire raises eyebrows. “If the creative director turns up in  a suit, the client asks ‘are you going to see a banker afterwards?’,” says  Dearn, who is herself a creative director. The dress code is generally jeans and  a T-shirt but  can  extend to shorts and  thongs in summer.

However, when it comes to her clients, Dearn says companies are right to enforce dress codes, particularly for businesses that require a uniform. “You’re really projecting the   essence of your brand through what your staff   are   wearing,”  she says. “Sometimes its subliminal, sometimes it’s very, very obvious.”

That  is the  argument of RailCorp in NSW, which began cracking down on  grooming late  last  year, ordering unshaven staff  not to clock  on  and  banning sunglasses from “resting on top  of head, … hat or cap”. Banished, too, were rolled up sleeves. Critics argued that the move was a waste of money, especially for train drivers who are generally unseen by the public.

The issue  of clothing crops up in branding conversations with Dearn’s clients, who are often seeking to reposition their brand. “We do  say  ‘have you  thought about changing the  way  you  dress,’ or  allowing a bit  more flexibility, or  just  having something that is a little bit  quirky, or has  a bit  of a twist?’,” says Dearn.

Staff uniforms are usually widely accepted says  Trew, however, appropriate business dress is a much greyer area. “Even within a single  workforce, the  understanding of what’s  appropriate  and   what’s  not can vary,” he says.

Hairstyles, piercings and  tattoos can be problematic for  many companies. In  June, Air New  Zealand  was criticised  for terminating the  interview of a potential air hostess after she  revealed she  had  a tattoo on her  lower forearm. The airline argued it had   a  policy  of  staff   not   having  visible tattoos. But the  job applicant accused the airline of having double standards because the tattoo was a ta moko, a traditional Maori tattoo, similar to that which the  airline uses on its own logo.

Last  year, Victoria Police  tightened their dress policy, banning beards and  ponytails as  well   as  jewellery and   makeup, stating “how you  present yourself …  can  have  as much impact upon the  professional image and  reputation of the  organisation as your actions”.

A group of police officers is fighting the ban, pursuing the  issue  through a tribunal. Less seriously, Adelaide folk-rock band The Beards  – whose songs  are  based entirely on celebrating facial hair  – were quick to issue a press release, encouraging “all members of the  Victorian Police  Force, and  also  people

everywhere, to  grow beards in  protest.,, We see what [Victoria Police  Commissioner] Ken  Lay  is trying to  do  and  we  will  not  be held   down. He  may  not  be  able  to  grow a beard, but  we can.”

There  hasn’t  been  a  national  sprouting of  facial  hair   in  response, although beards have   become somewhat more on-trend  in recent years.

Beards  aside, there is  a widespread belief that it’s women who struggle more with the issue  of what to wear to work than men because they have  so many fashion options, not  all of them good.

“You get told  what’s appropriate to wear to work but  when you  go to the  stores, it’s different,” says  Melbourne auditor and business fashion blogger Cheryl Lin, of businesschic.com.au. For example, stores typically carry lower-cut tops  than many workplaces would deem appropriate.

There’s also  the  skirts-versus-pants dilemma, which is far from dead, according to a UK study conducted by the  University of Hertfordshire.  It   found  that  women  who wear skirts in the  workplace are  rated more highly on confidence, salary and  flexibility than those who wear pant suits. The professor who co-led the  research argued that the results contradicted previous studies that suggested women  should  dress  more  like men in order to succeed in business.

Faced   with  changing  standards,  fast fashion and  personal preference, businesses would be better off avoiding being too prescriptive about how their employees present themselves, Trew  says.

Clear  visual examples of  the  type of  look that is required are often more effective than a long list of dos and  don’ts, says Trew.

Be too prescriptive and you run the risk that employees will rail against an inflexible approach, and find loopholes anyway. “There is  no  way  you  can  articulate and  prescribe every  situation  and   scenario,”  Trew   says. “You have  to present examples and an overall objective that  you   are   looking to  achieve. Keep an eagle eye on whoever has drafted the policy and  make sure  they haven’t gone  too far and  lost a bit of perspective.”

Despite reports  of  casual  Friday disappearing and  stories of the  younger generation   dressing   more   conservatively at work, another recent UK study found that only  one  in 10 employees wears a suit  every day.  Of the  2000  people surveyed by  online bank First Direct, more than a third said they opted for jeans  and  only 18 per cent regularly wore a tie.

As  for  the   UBS  dress  policy,  it  did   have one  defender. A work commentator for the Financial Times, Lucy Kellaway, wrote in her column: “Clad  in  my  sloppy flannel pyjamas and  fleece  dressing gown, I’m  looking again at  the  UBS booklet and  thinking how crisp those lovely  shirts look  and  marvelling at the wisdom of the advice.”

This article was originally written by Carolyn Boyd for the August edition of HRmonthly where the article first appeared.

2
Leave a reply

avatar
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Notify me of
Sonny
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Sonny

That’s a skillful answer to a diulcifft question

Jacinta
Guest
Jacinta

I have been pulled up several times at work for dressing inappropriate. Not wearing makeup was one, i was told i have to wear flat shoes (im an office worker), and even told on casual friday that my thick strapped, loose, high necked singlet top was too revealing and i wasn’t to show my shoulders i was then even instructed to either go buy a cardigan to cover myself or go home. Yet my own manager constantly wears 4inch heels and skirts so short you can see her underwear when she sits down. Its not just a work standard that… Read more »

More on HRM