dress code
Photos by Getty Images

The Summer Dress-Code Conundrum

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: We have a business-casual dress code, but as summer approaches, my staff doesn’t seem to understand that shorts and flip-flops aren’t appropriate for work. How can we communicate what is acceptable in a place of business without seeming dictatorial?

 A: This issue is problematic. Most of us don’t like to be told what we can and cannot wear to work, but you make a good point: There is business casual, and there is too casual.

Before you get too concerned with what doesn’t seem appropriate, consider whether you can relax your dress code a little for the three short summer months. Would the world come to an end? Probably not.

Consider whether you can relax your dress code a little for the three short summer months. Would the world come to an end? Probably not.

To determine the best way to reaffirm the importance of your dress code, even during summer, gather input from a cross-section of employees. Now, this may be risky if all your employees think shorts and flip-flops are OK at work, but most likely they will take this responsibility seriously and help you sell a reasonable policy to the rest of your team.

Once your leadership agrees on what guidelines are appropriate, try posting pictures around the office of what attire is and is not acceptable. This is less threatening than an email from the CEO or an all-staff  meeting to discuss this sensitive topic.

If you have casual Fridays when employees can wear jeans, you might consider allowing knee-length shorts and flip-flops on these days. But reserve the right to require office attire anytime a board member or prospective business partner will be visiting the office.

If you don’t want to relax your dress code for the entire summer, a compromise could be to set aside a day each month when employees can wear shorts and flip-flops and you bring in ice cream for everyone to celebrate summer!

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

Performance Management