We all appreciate the short-bursts of hot weather in NI which we welcome when rarely received. However, for employers of many industries it represents new challenges to the “dress code”. Whether, as an employer, you have a formal dress code or not, you still receive requests from employees for casual wear to be introduced during hot weather periods.

Work attire in general, is sector / industry specific. Irrespective, when the weather heats up, some employees can struggle with following the dress code. During these periods, a pragmatic approach needs to be taken by employers:

-        A comfortable office environment needs to be maintained. There’s no upper temperature limit for offices (only minimum for H&S reasons) but temperature control is important as an employer you still want a productive workforce. Fans / air-conditioning units need installed in addition to opening windows where possible.

-        Those in front-line / customer-facing positions – some degree of formality may need to be maintained to present a professional image.

-        Some customer-facing roles may need to retain company uniforms / PPE due to health & safety reasons and this should be explained.

If your normal approach is one of projecting a professional appearance, then relaxing it at this time of year needs to be implemented and balanced with the needs and preferences of employees. The last thing you want as an employer is staff presenting themselves in scruffy clothes, tattoos showing and facial piercings appearing!

We’ve reached the point where some employers and employees are unsure of what’s acceptable or not. So, it all goes back to how the employer wants their image to be portrayed. What is acceptable to one company will not be acceptable to another. Just this week I heard the Chief Executive of NISA state that he would be comfortable with staff in their franchise outlets wearing shorts but with company t-shirts. That’s his decision but it also depends on your business and your culture.

With policies such as dress-down Fridays and a much more relaxed attitude to work dress in general, what was formerly an easy decision has now become much more perplexing and easier to get wrong. Adopting the casual look might be good for internal morale but it is more often than not inappropriate for meetings with clients or bosses. Casual clothing rarely projects the right image. For visitors and clients, it can also be confusing - casual dress can erase the sense of hierarchy that some people need to help them understand your business. People associate casual clothes with relaxed times, like the weekend, and it can be easy to slip into that mindset at work. Many employees believe traditional work attire helps them to focus their activities and professional mindset.

Some key principles to consider and adopt:

-        If you are meeting a client, always be sensitive to their dress code and at least match it - if in doubt wear professional attire.

-        Do observe dress-down days to ‘fit in’ with colleagues but dressing down doesn’t mean dressing like you are going to the beach or a country walk - Friday is not Saturday.

-        Whether casual or formal, the right clothes should be smart and give you credibility and authority.

Take a pragmatic approach and hopefully common sense will prevail!

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