How to create a small business dress code policy

Creating a dress code policy is a simple but effective way of demonstrating what you expect from your team in order to achieve success. Find out what your business needs to create and execute an effective plan.

Professionalism matters

Dress codes can vary depending on your location

Aside from eliminating any misunderstandings, the primary reasons people create a dress code policy are to develop a good impression for clients and ensure the workplace is safe.

Dress for the job you want

When representing your company in front of potential or existing clients, how a member of your team is dressed can create a positive or negative impression that reflects on your company. When customers look at your team, it helps if they see people dressed suitably for the area of work. It reinforces the overall confidence that your company can deliver on the job required.

Safety is another important consideration. If you have hazards in your workplace, then your policy needs to address essential requirements such as closed or steel toed-shoes. You can find out more about your workplace health and safety obligations in your state here.

Writing your policy: what you need to know

Restaurant staff dress code

First, you need to understand your objective. Why do you want to instill a dress code policy at all? Knowing what you want to achieve will help you create the right tone and direction, whether your dress code is practical, safety based or simply your preference for the look (and feel) of your small business.

Getting the team’s support

Approaching the conversation about suitable work attire may be challenging. People consider what they wear to be an extension of their personality.

Your team is more likely to support your vision if they understand the rationale behind it. Explaining what you hope to achieve will put it in context. A clear dress code can actually assist team members in the long run as it provides specific expectations as to how they need to be groomed and dress – eliminating any doubt or concern. It will also make things simple for new starters to know what to wear right from the outset.

Your dress code policy doesn’t have to be boring and “skirts must be below the knee” predictable. Craft a policy that is unique for your business.

How to roll out your policy

Your dress code should reflect the industry you’re in

It’s not enough to say you want your team to dress ‘in an appropriate manner’. One person’s expectations of what is appropriate for the workspace versus another’s can be vastly different.

Lose the ambiguity

Be specific and take the guesswork out. For example: “T-shirts are fine, singlet tops are not.” Your policy must be clear. However, a quick chat about what’s expected is not sufficient. Having a dress code written and agreed upon will remove any doubt and allow your team members to read it again if they are ever unsure. It also gives you support should you need to refer to it for disciplinary reasons.

Your dress code policy doesn’t have to be boring and “skirts must be below the knee” predictable. Craft a policy that is unique for your business.

Legalities to consider

Your dress code policy cannot be discriminatory in any way. It is against the law to discriminate against someone by treating them unfairly because of their race, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

If you create rules around dress that single out specific employees for different treatment because of their personal characteristics or background, that is also considered to be possibly discriminatory. (For example, if you specify that all employees must be outfitted in something specific but a pregnant team member can’t wear it.)

If in doubt, you can contact the relevant government business support services in your state. (Business Victoria even has a sample template you can adapt on their website.)

Your dress code can’t be exclusionary but it can be bespoke for your business. Consider some of these options:

In office vs on location

Create a simple dress code that outlines when with the team, things are relaxed, but when out of office or representing the brand, there are specific guidelines to be followed.

Teamwork via uniforms

Matching work outfits from top to toe may not be exactly what you’re after, but creating some form of uniformity can develop a sense of teamwork. This can be as specific as branded shirts or as loose as an agreed upon colour range or palette.

Consider your industry

You want your team to wear clothing that demonstrates they understand the industry you’re in. They are a direct reflection of the business – now and in the future.

Consider what ‘professional’ in your industry means – whether it’s a quirky tee or a smart linen shirt. Done right, casual can make just as much of an impression if it’s matched to the right circumstances.

Getting the team on board

Small business casual dress code

Write your policy and share it with your team, requesting they agree via signature. File this document for later reference if needed. If you’d like the document easily referred to, pin a copy in a shared space and for new members, include it as part of their welcome pack of information.

Enforcing the rules

If someone is consistently disregarding the policy, you should first discuss it with them. Explain again why it’s important to you and the business. Empower them to be part of a shared plan for the company. Ask them why they have an issue with it. Try to mediate the situation before escalating it. If they still can’t get behind you, you may need to consider whether they are a good fit for your business altogether.

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