|When employees are told that they can "dress down," and the guidelines are vague at best, the employees will dress down...in many cases, way down. And further, the attire will continue its descent unless some action is taken.|
Programs that allow the employees to dress comfortably for work can be very helpful in improving morale, satisfaction, and even productivity. While it is not critical to have a written policy in this area, it is essential to have widely-shared agreement as to what is and is not appropriate. The best way to reach this understanding is through direct communication.
The first step is to openly and honestly tell the employees that the current level of attire on Fridays has dipped into the unacceptable range, to the point that customers are commenting about it. Give them specific information regarding the kinds of attire that have generated complaints or other work-related problems, as well as a clearer picture of the kinds of attire that are acceptable. Let the employees know that you view them as adults and expect them to make reasonable individual decisions as to what they should be wearing to work on the free-dress days.
In the event that some employees still do not get the message, the next step is to develop a more formalized standard. While you could do this on your own, it will be more effective to form a task force of key employees to suggest some guidelines. By having employee involvement at this stage of the process, you increase the likelihood of having a quality program that is actually followed.
While not a major issue, one change that should be considered is the name of the program. The term, "dress down," can send a psychological message that attire is expected to sink to greater and greater depths -- in fact, it is almost a subtle directive to do so. As a result, it will make more sense to use words like "casual" or "comfortable" in referring to attire for the special days.