Should you get fired for challenging dress code?
More specifically, challenging dress code as an intern?
At a young age, we are conditioned on what to wear.
There is an appropriate way to present yourself in different settings.
As children up into adulthood, we dress according to the activities we are involved in.
The student handbook provides the dress code that helps create effective learning environments.
Dress codes unify the group and give the players an identity in team sports
And work is no exception.
Dress codes in a professional setting aim to establish a framework of generally accepted attire for daily interaction.
This article will discuss the importance of a professional dress code and why we all should adhere to it.
It will also touch on a response to a letter has been passed around about an intern being fired for petitioning management to change the dress code.
The contents of the letter are summarized as follows:
“I was able to get a summer internship at a company that does work in the industry I want to work in after I graduate. I felt the dress code was overly strict but I wasn’t going to say anything until I noticed one of the workers always wore flat shoes that were made from a fabric other than leather, or running shoes, even though both of these things were contrary to the dress code.
I spoke with my manager about being allowed some leeway under the dress code and was told this was not possible, despite the other person being allowed to do it. I soon found out that many of the other interns felt the same way, and the ones who asked their managers about it were told the same thing as me.
We decided to write a proposal stating why we should be allowed someone leeway under the dress code. We accompanied the proposal with a petition, signed by all of the interns (except for one who declined to sign it) and gave it to our managers to consider. Our proposal requested that we also be allowed to wear running shoes and non-leather flats, as well as sandals (not flip-flops though) and other non-dress shoes that would fit under a more business casual dress code. It was mostly about the footwear, but we also incorporated a request that we not have to wear suits and/or blazers in favor of a more casual, but still professional dress code.
The next day, all of us who signed the petition were called into a meeting where we thought our proposal would be discussed. Instead, we were informed that due to our “unprofessional” behavior, we were being let go from our internships. Just before the meeting ended, one of the managers told us that the worker who was allowed to disobey the dress code was a former soldier who lost her leg and was therefore given permission to wear whatever kind of shoes she could walk in. Then we were told to hand in our ID badges and to gather our things and leave the property ASAP.
Fired? What do you think? Too far?
Here are 4 reasons why this intern overstepped her boundaries.
#1 Dress Code Is Not Arbitrary
Dress codes serve many purposes. However, there are two main reasons that one should take note of them.
- The dress codes communicate for the organization who they are as part of a brand or an identity. It's what the company presents to their peer community, shareholders, and employees.
- The dress code also is a safety mechanism. It could limit liability in some cases of injury on the job as well as prevent injury. Additionally, dress codes usually are aimed at removing the bias in appearance. These rules have been used to identify departmental staff and employees in large and multi-organizations.
It is important to remember that every company is different and inherent in those differences are reasoning for the dress code. A common example can be seen in businesses that interface with the public.
These organizations will generally want you to be in a crisp business or business professional attire so that your clients will know that you mean business. The Wall Street Journal reports that (according to research) when a person dresses better they will be more productive.
Companies that do not see the public are oftentimes less formal. Even still a creative company or companies that services the art community or social web clients may welcome and encourage the comfort of their employees by promoting a less formal dress code.
#2 Interns Should Have Better Priorities
It begs an obvious question. Did that person deserve the punishment?
It also begs a not-so-obvious question. Why were the intern's priorities focused on the wrong thing?
As an intern, your number one goal should be to gain the skills needed to excel in the career you wish to pursue, not to change the rules of a company you haven't even been hired at yet.
Think of yourself as a guest in someone else's home. A home that would want to hire you one day.
Organizations agree that attire is important so they make the decision for you. An intern should be focused on strengthening their skill sets to prepare for their careers not what they're required to wear.
It's okay to have personal beliefs about who you are and what you stand for. A generally accepted business principle is that those beliefs (political, religion, and finance) do not enter the workplace. We can now add qualms regarding dress code to the list.
Knowing what you stand for and voicing what you stand for are two different things and should be approached thoughtfully with wisdom.
Bringing your personal beliefs or objections to company rules and policies during a test run or probationary period in an organization is very risky and may display a lack of prioritization. The time that you are spending disgruntled over oxfords versus canvas shoes may present a problem for the company or potential employer.
What should not be done is airing grievances in a letter writing campaign or petition approach could convey disregard for authority.
Seeking clarity regarding dress code rules is best done through the human resource department. They are in a better position to explain the company's stance on mirroring the industry, safety, and uniformity. Although the request may be reasonable, this passive aggressive stance creates a negative vibe in the workplace.
#3 Businesses Don't Have Time To Deal With Passive Aggressive Tactics
When a group collects a petition they are explicitly taking a passive aggressive approach.
Petitions are historically used when:
- The decision maker cannot be reached
- The decision maker has been explicitly ignoring a face-to-face request for a long period of time.
Policies and procedures have been vetted out and implemented to ensure that the daily operations of an organization would not be delayed in addressing each issue as it arose.
Things such as dress code have been addressed upfront to allocate the time and resources in areas that are of primary importance to the organization, which is growth.
Many business owners and management personnel do not have the time to tackle each dress code concern as they arise.
As a manager or business owner, a lot of time is spent in
- Ensuring goals are met
- The team is operating efficiently
- Personnel skills are being applied effectively
This is especially true when onboarding new employees or introducing an intern into a position.
In this situation, a matter of dress code is handled at the onset of the relationship (pending any huge changes) so that time and attention can be focused on business.
As an employer – the primary concerns are safety and profitability. As an employee – the primary concern is safety and productivity. These two are of extreme concern when they are compromised.
#4 Refusing To Follow Company Policy Is Not Generational
Let's just squash the elephant in the room.
It's not a millennial thing.
The idea of dress codes aren't old-fashioned.
From baby boomers to generation X – and now millennials (generation Y), we have seen changes in dress codes in our individual and casual attire. However, professional dress codes (expressed and implied) have generally been consistent and the same with few modifications.
Let’s be clear. You can never go wrong with
- Dark trousers
- White button up shirt
- Dark shoes
I would have a necktie on during the first day as it can be removed and make the look more casual should the office culture deem it acceptable. If the job you have has an actual uniform, wear it!.
This may be hard to believe but dress codes were not created to be oppressive. They were designed to get rid of generational differences and create a standard by which all can be viewed the same.
Professional dress codes are more about embracing the company culture and the role you are assuming and less about identifying with a specific age group.
There is a rapid speed of change in our modern society. Some would like the internal infrastructure of business change this quickly as well. Although that may be reasonable in some areas, the uniformity that dress codes provide allows a company to still be true to their core beliefs about their business identity while also serving the needs of the consumer.
It's a mindset thing.
Following dress code on the job is a sign that there is an acknowledgment of the workforce requirements. It's not an abandonment on generational acceptance or individual identity; it is an adherence to a rule that was considered with you in mind.