Is it time to ditch the employee dress code?

Written on 6 December 2021

We all know that old habits die hard, and as businesses continue to transition back to the conventional office-based days of old, swapping sweatpants for smart trousers may be a bit of a shock to the system. 

Indeed, the age-old convention of dress code is perhaps the first thing to have fallen by the wayside as a result of remote working. Already, studies have begun to show that the lack of office-based working during the pandemic has prompted individuals to adopt a more casual wardrobe, with a report from footwear brand Kurt Geiger revealing that average Briton now owns the equivalent of £474 in trainers, and two in three UK workers now wear them to the office.

With this in mind, it might be time for businesses to rethink their approach to work attire. Here are some possible benefits of redefining your employee dress code in 2022.

A smoother transition

One of the most immediate post-pandemic challenges that businesses are bound to find themselves facing is the transition back to office-based working. 

While many are keen to return to in-person interactions and the atmosphere of a co-located setup, many are of course reluctant, having become accustomed to the convenience and flexibility afforded by remote working.

As a result, a degree of pushback is to be expected, and new research from Reed has shown that nearly half of UK workers would be prepared to change jobs to be able to work remotely or on a hybrid basis.

Naturally, the threat of this is likely to be even more strongly felt among businesses at present due to the spate of resignations being seen across numerous sectors – the so-called ‘Great Resignation’. 

With this in mind, employers may be tempted to try and replicate elements of the remote working experience in order to create a less abrupt transition and, in the longer-term, retain more staff.

While aspects such as more flexible working patterns and a greater focus on wellbeing are likely to be higher up this list, a reassessment of dress code policy may be a quick, easy and low-cost initiative to sway the opinion of certain employees, ensuring a smoother and less stressful transition back to the office.

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A culture boost

Amidst the seemingly infinite dialogue on the pros and cons of remote work during the past two years, the retention of company culture has persisted more than most.

And of course, now that working life is edging back towards some semblance of normality, the conversation has been turned on its head. Now, leaders are asking themselves how they can re-establish (and improve upon) office culture.

So, with many employees now gravitating towards more casual attire, organisations could be presented with an opportunity to take a more progressive and contemporary spin on company dress code.

While such an initiative could yield numerous positive effects, the potential impact on employee wellbeing could be the most significant.

Research has found, for instance, that British workers spend an average of £5,000 per year on work-related items, with work attire being responsible for a considerable portion of this.

With this in mind, it stands to reason that the elimination of such a cost could potentially have a significant impact on employees’ financial (and by extension, mental) health.

Once again, with workers currently leaving posts in their droves, small perks such as this could make all the difference when it comes to engagement and retention efforts. Even better, it stands to cost employers nothing to implement such changes, meaning it’s an accessible option for those who aren’t in a financial position to offer more expensive retention-boosting benefits.

Your employer brand

Finally, while the dialogue around the resignation crisis naturally centres around retention, the more effective acquisition of new talent is of course equally significant.

But with the combination of sky-high demand and the UK’s increasingly stretched labour market, this has arguably never been more challenging.

However, steps can be taken to remedy this, and mastering your employer brand could be one of the key pieces of the puzzle.

Objectively speaking, the link between these two things is clear. One study, for instance, found that 83% of corporate leaders worldwide believe that employer brand has a significant impact on their ability to hire quality talent.

Even in a far less disrupted climate, a big part of this is creating a progressive and inclusive image for the organisation, and needless to say, dress code fits seamlessly into this category.

Though a seemingly small step, this is something that, in practice, could go a long way when it comes to establishing a striking and attractive offering for prospective new talent.

What if we don't want to?

Of course, whether a more relaxed dress code is appropriate or even possible in your workplace will entirely depend on your sector and the nature of employees’ roles. Those who operate machinery or work in a kitchen, for instance, will need to adhere to specific dress codes for their own safety. Additionally, you may feel that employees who are client-facing need to uphold standards of professionalism and present a certain corporate image.

Ultimately, employers are within their rights to set their own rules in respect to uniform, dress and appearance, provided these are not discriminatory, so if you don’t feel inclined to revisit your dress code in light of remote working, there’s no obligation to do so.

If employees begin to push the boundaries on their return to the office by wearing overly-casual attire, an informal reminder of your dress code may be all it takes to resolve the issue. However, if they repeatedly refuse to comply, you could take formal disciplinary action in accordance with your disciplinary procedures.

Whatever you decide works best for you in regard to workwear, issuing a memo to employees as part of the return-to-work process to reiterate your dress code is a wise idea. As well as reducing the potential for issues, it may also alleviate anxiety for employees who may be unsure about what’s appropriate in the new world of work.

Speak to a specialist

Need help devising or amending your employee dress code? Looking for advice on avoiding discrimination or dealing with a difficult employee? WorkNest’s Employment Law and HR experts can help. 

Our set-cost service includes unlimited advice from dedicated professionals, plus an employee handbook of best-practice policies, bespoke document drafting and much more besides.

For more information and to discuss your specific needs, call 0345 226 8393 or request your free consultation using the button below.

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