Benchmarking dress code use in 2011

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Employers are relatively relaxed on dress codes in 2011, with "business casual" dress codes being the most common arrangement, latest XpertHR Benchmarking research reveals. 

Nearly three-quarters of organisations have a dress code in operation. Private sector employers are significantly more likely to operate a dress code than those in the public sector. 

The most common types of dress code among UK employers are "business casual" or "smart casual." These are followed by dress codes specifying that uniforms or overalls must be worn, and those relating to formal business attire. 

Fewer than one employer in 10 take a relaxed approach on dress codes. 

Subscribers to XpertHR Benchmarking can drill down into the complete benchmarking data from the 2011 dress codes survey. The survey is based on responses from 218 organisations currently operating 269 different dress codes, which cover a total of 163,483 employees. 

Other key findings on dress codes include the following:

Reasons for having dress codes

The primary reasons for having a dress code are to maintain the organisation's external image, to meet health and safety considerations, and to reinforce company culture among employees. 

Nine out of 10 employers are willing to relax their dress code under certain circumstances. Charity days are the most widespread reason for relaxing dress codes, followed by dress-down days and unusually hot or cold weather. Only one respondent in 10 never relaxes its dress code. 

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Among the one employer in four without a dress code, the most commonly cited reasons for not operating a dress code are that employees dress appropriately without guidelines, or that the organisation has a "relaxed" culture. 

Benefits and drawbacks of dress codes

Employers operating dress codes have strong views as to the benefits they bring. The vast majority say that having a dress code helps set standards regarding workplace culture, and enhances the external image of the organisation. 

One in three says that having a dress code helps overcome equality issues in the workplace. 

Nine out of 10 organisations have acted to ensure that their dress code does not fall foul of legislation outlawing discrimination on grounds of religion or belief. The most common such action is to ensure that the dress code does not ban garments or accessories that can be construed as religious. 

Only a tiny minority of those surveyed (fewer than one in 50) say they have received complaints that their dress code is discriminatory

Some employers cite risk of discrimination claims as a drawback of operating a dress code. However, the most commonly mentioned drawbacks are provoking employee complaints and the amount of time and energy required to police the dress code. 

What garments do dress codes permit?

"Business casual" dress codes are most prevalent, but what do they permit?

For male employees, both formal and "business casual" dress codes tend to restrict or exclude shorts, trainers and jeans

For female employees, formal dress codes are most likely to prohibit jeans, trainers and t-shirts. A further two-thirds specify restrictions relating to the length of skirts and dresses, while four in 10 restrict or ban trousers

"Business casual" dress codes for women are more varied, but most ban or restrict the wearing of trainers, cut-off tops, jeans and shorts

You can also access XpertHR's detailed written analyses of the survey findings: XpertHR dress codes survey: Workplace trends and XpertHR dress codes survey: Defining acceptable work wear


Michael Carty, benchmarking editor

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