Loyalty Leader Quick Tips

Taking Business Casual Too Far Can Offend Customers

June 13, 2017

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It was time for a pedicure so I booked an appointment at a local salon. When I arrived, a well-dressed receptionist greeted me. She introduced me to my nail technician who invited me to follow her up a flight of stairs to the spa. My view was embarrassing as her low-rider capris parted ways with her short sweater. Because I was right behind her, I had to look straight down at the steps to avoid seeing things that I really didn’t want to see.

A few days later, I stopped at a local shop for a cup of coffee. The young woman at the counter leaned over to hand me my drink. Her sweater was cut so low that everything, and I mean everything from her waist up was exposed. The woman behind me had her 5-year-old son with her. She quickly spun him around so he wouldn’t see the cashier’s bare anatomy.

“Dressing up for work continues to go out of style,” according to a survey released last week by OfficeTeam, an arm of the office staffing firm Robert Half International Inc.

Half of the senior managers interviewed in the survey said their workers wear less formal clothing than they did five years ago, and 47% said their employees dressed “too casually.” The survey also showed that 32% of managers said their workers showed “too much skin.”

Employees who take casual office attire too far could cause problems for companies that want to promote a more professional workplace culture or signal competence to clients. Many companies have moved away from formal dress code policies in recent years, giving employees more freedom in what to put on for work.

Even in corporate settings, unclear or unenforced casual dress code policies are being interpreted as opportunities to dress inappropriately. Dress code abuse has caused companies to ban such items as halter tops, stretch pants, jeans, shorts, sandals, and shirts without collars.

Another potential problem with casual office attire is that employees may tend to take work less seriously when they are dressed casually. A survey of managers conducted by the employment law firm Jackson Lewis and cited in Entrepreneur indicated that 44 percent noticed an increase in employee absenteeism and tardiness when casual dress policies were introduced. The managers also noted a rise in inappropriate, flirtatious behavior.

Problems arise when companies define their dress codes using vague words like “appropriate,” “professional,” and “businesslike” without spelling out a specific policy. This can create confusion among employees. To avoid this situation, business owners and managers should spell out their dress codes clearly.

When it comes to professional image and building customer loyalty, clothes do make a difference. Here are some fashion alerts to keep in mind if you want to maintain a professional image:

  • Clothing that is too tight is never flattering.
  • Clothing that is too revealing makes your co-workers and customers uncomfortable.
  • Baggy clothes make you look sloppy and unprofessional.
  • Shorts or too-short skirts can make others perceive you as overly casual.
  • Gym attire such as yoga pants, t-shirts, and running shoes can send the message that you are not serious about your work.
  • Others may perceive ripped, wrinkled, torn or dirty clothing as signs of laziness or lack of self-respect.

People who are serious about climbing the career ladder often choose not to wear casual office attire because they are concerned about their professional credibility. Bosses may lose the respect of their employees by dressing too casually. Employees may lose out on promotions that go to their better-dressed co-workers. Salespeople risk feeling embarrassed if a customer drops by the office and finds them wearing casual clothing. A good rule of thumb to follow is always to dress as well as your best customers.

Perception is everything. So, when rules are more relaxed at work, you still need to manage your brand and adhere to your company’s culture and values.

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