Global Company Dress Codes: Can One Size Fit All?

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The evolution of today's global workforce has introduced a host of new challenges for HR leaders. This is especially true when it comes to developing and implementing HR policies for international employers. Cultural differences, communication barriers and legal considerations create a unique set of challenges that further complicates the policy landscape.

Company dress codes can be particularly difficult to manage for international businesses. Different countries can have distinct workplace cultures or conflicting ideas on how employees should present themselves at work. Here are some important considerations when developing a company dress code for a global workforce.

Be Clear on Intent

Some businesses adopt a dress code to present a specific image or ensure their employees' appearance aligns with their brand. Some may be focused on establishing protective guidelines when hygiene or safety is a concern, while others are looking to establish standards for appropriate workplace attire more broadly. The key is for HR leaders to understand what's driving the need for a company dress code in the first place.

Ask yourself, "What are we trying to accomplish by imposing a dress code?" Once you're clear on the purpose, you'll be better positioned to develop a compelling message that accounts for the business rationale behind the new dress code when it's time to communicate to a global workforce. Another way to boost employee acceptance is by involving them in the process — ask for their input as you evaluate needs and requirements, or conduct focus groups with employees from key functional areas or geographic locations who will be affected by the policy.

Understand the Impacts

Ever-changing fashion trends and shifting social norms have always made workplace dress codes a bit tricky. They become even more difficult to navigate when you factor in all the legal considerations and issues like safety, gender equality and religious expression that come into play.

International organizations face an added layer of complexity because employment laws and regulations may vary by country. For this reason, it's not always possible to enforce a dress code uniformly across all populations. In these situations, HR leaders must understand how the dress code will need to be applied differently to comply with the appropriate national and local laws. You should also consider how cultural and religious differences may change how the dress code affects employees in different countries.

You know your organization better than anyone — there's no hard and fast rule on how to handle these complexities. What's important is that you understand the cultural nuances for each of your business locations and account for them in how you develop and enforce your company dress code.

Prepare Managers to Carry the Message

Managers play a critical role in effectively enforcing policies related to employee dress and appearance — especially if you can't take a "one size fits all" approach. Employees will look to their managers to translate what the dress code means for them. Pre-communicating to managers is crucial so they understand the impact to their teams before implementation, are prepared to answer questions and can appropriately enforce the new policy. Give them the tools and resources they need to be successful, like manager-specific FAQs, talking points, communication templates and training opportunities. According to the ADP Research Institute® report, Fixing the Talent Management Disconnect, these efforts to develop stronger managers may also help retain high-performing employees and keep them engaged.

Whether you apply your company dress code uniformly or decide to take it country by country, rely on frontline managers to relay the information in appropriate ways. In times of uncertainty and change, it's not the actual message but the tone of what's communicated that employees will remember. That's why it's important for managers to do so with confidence and positivity, so you can deal with the exceptions with heightened sensitivity and awareness. No mass email will address these situations with the same care and intention of an informed manager.

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