Dress Codes and the UBS Debacle

Dress Codes and the UBS Debacle

Restaurants, grocery stores and banks all have something in common – an employee dress code.  Some companies, such as UBS in Sweden, have traditionally taken dress codes to higher levels.  A 44-page guide for employees contains specific directives about employee nail care, glasses and even underwear.  Recently, though, UBS announced that it will change its strict policies to more practical dress guidelines.  While most companies don’t manage company appearance down to such small details, many have some type of code in place, whether it includes wearing name tags or collared shirts, or directing employees not to wear jeans, nose rings or multiple earrings. 

The challenge is to keep the dress codes current and practical. For some companies, dress code is rarely an issue. For others, employees complain frequently about the requirements. Dress code is part of company culture and the organization’s brand appearance, and if employees feel the dress code is unfair or that management doesn’t enforce the code uniformly among all employees, it can cause dissatisfaction.

So what should companies do? Here are few ideas to consider:

  • Revisit dress code at least annually. Are some guidelines out of date? 
  • Find out what type of dress is right for your business from a customer experience standpoint. UBS was concerned about employee appearance because that organization wanted to present a confidence building image.
  • If the dress code causes controversy often, consider conducting employee focus groups to gain opinions on acceptable dress. Use actual pictures to make decisions, since verbal descriptions can be hard to visualize.  Or conduct an employee survey to gather more opinions.
  • When rolling out a new dress code that you developed with employee input, communicate that you gained employee feedback before adopting the changes. Explain why the company is changing the dress policy. Include photos of acceptable and unacceptable dress.
  • Explain dress code requirements in terms of customer experience and sales. “Our customers expect us to be conservative in style because we offer a conservation service, “ or “Our customers expect us to appear hip and up-to-the-minute, based on the products we sell.” 
  • Fully disclose dress code requirements as part of the hiring process. People tend to NOT want to work where they don’t fit in. Be clear up front to avoid issues later.
  • Measure employee appearance.  Location visits by management can keep an eye on how employees present themselves. Mystery shoppers provide an unbiased view of employee adherence to dress code policy.
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