When employees' attire is less than appropriate, managers have to step in to make sure the office environment stays professional.NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Most companies allow employees a little leeway when it comes to fashion -- especially on Fridays, holidays or bad weather. For employees, getting out of a suit or high heels for a day can be a real relief, but what's a manager to do when every day at the office starts to look like a day at the beach? When workers start dressing inappropriately, experts say it's time to step in for what may be a difficult conversation. Whether an employee is dressing too casually, too skimpily or just downright unacceptably, we've got tips on how to handle the situation without overstepping your bounds. Fashion may be an individual choice, but when discussing wardrobe issues, managers have to be careful "not to let the conversation get personal," says Robert Hosking, executive director of staffing firm OfficeTeam. Any discussion about attire must remain business-focused, Hosking says, but before an employee is addressed one on one, managers need to ensure that their company dress code is clear and specific enough that employees know what is expected. If the dress code is laid out plainly in the company handbook, a manager's next step should be to post a memo for all staff members to review. When gentle reminders don't seem to work and a specific individual needs to be addressed, it's wise to get the HR department involved, "as they can provide advice to help you manage that conversation," Hosking says. "Companies need to be diligent about enforcing the dress code," he says. "If one employee gets away with ignoring the dress code, others will soon follow, or they will resent the employee for breaking the rules and getting away with it. Either way, it's best to address the issue immediately to avoid escalation." According to a recent OfficeTeam survey, 80% of executives say that clothing choices either "significantly" or "somewhat" affect an employee's chances of earning a promotion. That may be the only point a manager needs to bring up when addressing workplace attire, says Dana Manciagli, career expert and author of Cut the Crap, Get a Job.
"Ask them, 'Can I give you feedback about ways I think you can move up faster?'" she says. "Incorporate attire, but add something else, too. 'Sue, you have a great smile and I encourage you to use that in your interactions so people see your friendlier side. And what we wear influences the perceptions that people have about us. Have you considered altering your work attire slightly to send the message that you want to move up?'" No matter how you approach the initial conversation, John Greene, president of CSB Training and chief operating officer of Collaborative Consulting, says that it's best to deal with the situation swiftly. "Make sure you tell them what the consequences are if they don't do what you're asking," Greene says. "Stick to it. If you tell them they will be fired if they don't clean up their act, and then they don't clean up their act -- fire them. This may sound harsh, but you will lose credibility if you back down and let them get their way." Greene says it's best to err on the side of caution when managers are addressing employees of a different sex. "It's better to have women confront women or men confront men on issues of skimpy or revealing clothing, not just because they relate better on dress but also from an HR perspective -- it helps keep the company out of potential legal hot water," Greene says.