by Mike Clark-Madison
Workplace dress codes, whether formal or informal, seem to cause a lot of headaches for managers, and I'm sure lots of people secretly wish they could just make all their employees wear uniforms. That's what's happening in Benson, Ariz., where the City Council has just voted to require and provide uniforms for every city employee. (Police officers, of course, already wear uniforms, as do public-works staff.)
From the city clerk to the library clerks, each of the 100 or so Benson employees will be outfitted in some version of a polo-shirt-and-dress-slacks ensemble, perhaps with long sleeved options for winter, according to reports in the local paper. If employees are peeved about this, they don't seem to have made much fuss.
Now in a lot of workplaces I know, this wouldn't represent much change from the sartorial status quo. But what struck me were the city's rationales—that uniforms would increase pride in the workplace, and that they would eliminate confusion for customers who (like one council member) can't tell the difference between staff and ordinary citizens.
I've heard the "pride in the workplace" argument lots of times before, attached to lots of different workplace initiatives, and I've always thought it was bogus. Unless workers choose to make a statement such as wearing uniforms, whatever benefits follow will have little to do with "pride." As for telling the difference between staff and customers, maybe that's relevant in front-line service jobs where it's important for people to quickly figure out who's in charge. Otherwise, I think nametags would suffice.
On the other hand, the Benson City Council is willing to make a fairly substantial investment in the kind of workplace-quality initiative that often gets sacrificed to the bottom line, so it's hard to be too critical.