How to implement a summer dress code

Employee engagement See all Why you need a summer dress code

With temperatures ticking upwards, hemlines at your office are probably going up too.

Skirts and sleeves might get shorter … or employees might be tempted to swap pants for shorts. But when those casual summer styles start popping up, it can lead to some inappropriate attire and confusion about office policies.

Take, for instance, male employees at companies throughout Europe — like bus drivers in France and a British call centre employee — who’ve gone viral for protesting “no shorts” policies during the sticky summer heat by showing up to work in dresses. (Yes, seriously.)

New Canadian research shows employees on this side of the pond could be frustrated too. A poll from OfficeTeam, conducted by an independent research firm, found 63 per cent of Canadian workers prefer to wear more relaxed work attire. Meanwhile, more than a quarter — 28 per cent — admitted they’re at least sometimes unsure about whether clothing is office-appropriate, the poll shows.

Koula Vasilopoulos, district president for OfficeTeam, says these findings show workers overwhelmingly prefer casualwear at the office, but employers need to be more clear about what’s appropriate.

“Some of the terms can be quite nebulous. What does casual mean? What does business casual mean?” she says. “The reality is, every company has a different take on what that is.”

Many of the top responses for clothing options employees were unsure about are examples of laid-back summer attire — things like flip-flops, baseball hats, capri pants, mini skirts, shorts, dressy sandals, polo shirts, capri pants, and tank tops.

Vasilopoulos says companies need to provide specific guidelines in a handbook, including what defines “casual” wear, particularly in these hotter months, and she offered a few tips for how employers can tackle a summer dress code:

Take a look at your current policies

Do you have something in writing? Or is it just understood among staff? “It’s a good idea to have something written, with examples,” says Vasilopoulos.

Be specific

If you’re talking about allowing jeans, for instance, it’s important to stipulate things like the wash, or whether you allow holes, she says. “That really helps to minimize misinterpretation and embarrassment.”

Send out a reminder

When the summer weather rolls around, Vasilopoulos says it’s good to email employees about what is acceptable summer attire in the office. “It’s not just talking about what you can’t wear — it’s talking about what’s acceptable,” she says. That could mean stressing that sandals are okay, flip-flops are not.

Listen to your staff

Dress codes have evolved over time, and it’s worth listening to employees for their input on what they want to wear. “Being flexible and aware of what’s happening out there in the marketplace and what your employees are looking for is important,” Vasilopoulos says.

Consider the company’s needs

There’s no one-size-fits-all summer dress code, Vasilopoulos stresses. So for one office, shorts and polo shirts might be a good fit — but for a company that deals with clients on the regular, “casual” attire could mean just ditching a tie and keeping a dress shirt. “Companies just have to look at what makes sense for their business,” she explains.

See also:
Understanding inter-office blind dates (hint: there’s no romance involved)
How to build a healthier, happier office
9 unique employee perks to attract talent

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