How far should an employer dictate dress code?

18 Dec

How do you decide what's appropriate workwear?

It amuses me how news stories about workplace dress code get so many people hot under the collar.

Take the latest one from UBS, which has issued a 44-page manual to its employees with explicit instructions about the business attire that is required of its customer-facing staff.

For women, this means dark suits and white shirts at all times – but the skirts have to be a particular length (mid-knee is ideal). Fair enough, but I think the code is taken a little too far when it specifies what kind of underwear female staff should wear: not too tight or on show. (However, it does recommend that men should wear a vest!)

I’m all for dressing professionally, and UBS has an image to maintain, but I think there are limits to which an employer can go when stipulating the kind of perfume a member of staff is permitted to use.

I guess that any woman showing cleavage in UBS wouldn’t have a career for long – or in many other organisations, according to a survey commissioned by Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Peter Jones.

The survey of 3000 workers and managers – to raise awareness of Jones’ new work wear collection – found that the biggest no-nos in the office were trainers, unironed shirts and flip-flops. But it was the comment on low-cut tops damaging women’s careers that prompted most of the headlines as well as discussion and debate from the likes of Marie Claire, the Daily Mail and StyleList

I’ve always believed that the more flesh a woman shows at work, the less she is taken seriously. But while I think it’s important to dress professionally, especially in a managerial position, that does not mean women have to be dowdy or dull.

I am not one of the one in five managers who, according to the survey, has sacked someone for dressing inappropriately. But I have refused to employ someone who has made little effort at interview. I have been known to ask first-interview candidates to smarten up their act for second interview, as I find it hard to concentrate on what a potential new recruit is saying if his corduroy jacket has smudges from his breakfast, or if a woman’s hair needs a good wash and style.

However, there are some things that, in a professional context, are really best hidden. For me, the worst crime in the office is showing unkempt toes, and that applies to both men and women.



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