You may consider your company's dress code to be a total drag. In some cases, your feelings may be justified -- the dress code could be an arbitrary rule that has no bearing on the work you do. But if your workplace has a dress code, it may help you to understand the policy from your manager's point of view.
Workplaces often enforce dress codes purely for show. Professional businesses have an image to uphold, and workers who wear sneakers or T-shirts to the office may make it appear disorganized or unkempt. This may not matter to the people who work together every day, but it can make a difference to clients or customers who expect a certain level of professionalism from the business. If you're in a workplace where the public regularly visits or your office is plainly visible to outsiders, attire may be especially important.
Managers know that at some point, unprofessional attire can turn into downright inappropriate attire. For example, an employee may comply with the dress code by wearing a business suit, but she may have a very revealing shirt underneath. Clothing that is too revealing can set the wrong tone for the workplace. Managers need to take care with this topic, though, and ensure they're enforcing the rule for both men and women. Companies have been sued for discriminating against women's tight-fitting clothing while not applying the same standards for men.
When employees start to bend the rules in small ways, it can lead to bending the rules in bigger ways. When managers start to slack off on enforcing one rule, employees may see the manager as easy to disobey. As such, managers may need to enforce the dress code so they can maintain order and authority in the workplace. It may be more than a power grab -- keep in mind that the manager's own boss may also be watching and making note of the manager's leniency.
Some elements of your company's dress code may be in place for one very important reason: safety. In some workplaces, employees may be required to wear a nonslip shoe to prevent slips and falls, which can lead to worker's compensation claims. When that's the case, managers may enforce the rule because it's mandated by law or an insurance company.
Whatever the dress code, managers can't enforce it if employees don't know about it. In order to maintain order and authority, managers should make sure the dress code is clearly defined in the employee handbook or another place where employees can easily access it. Managers should be specific when writing the dress code. For instance, a "business casual" dress code may mean different things to different people. If T-shirts or open-toe shoes are banned, for example, the dress code should say so.
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