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Enforcing your team’s appearance standards

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Whether your enterprise has formal dress codes or informal guidelines, it's your job to explain these expectations to workers and to take corrective action when they're ignored. Many employees see any discus­sion of their appearance as an unwarranted intrusion into their private lives, or simply as a trivial matter to which you're overre­acting.

Here's what you should consider:

Whose standards? You're much better off if you can point to enterprise­wide (or industrywide) standards that other workers are typically able to follow. Whether those standards are appropriate to your team and workplace may be a good question if you have a number of workers who are failing to meet your expectations. But it's usually a worker whose appearance stands out—and not in a good way—that will attract your attention.

Why aren't they being met? You will encounter situations where employ­ees simply aren't able to meet your appearance standards, for a variety of rea­sons (for example, financial difficulties, personal disruptions, health problems). Be careful about adding pressure to what may already be a stressful situation.

Does it matter? You're always well advised to be able to explain, using real-world specifics, how a failure to meet appearance standards interferes with workers' ability to do their jobs properly.

Sometimes, this may involve a bona fide safety or security issue.

Are you being fair? Obviously, you have to apply your standards equitably to everyone. There are also important legal con­siderations (such as when you have gender-specific appearance stan­dards or ones that might impact religious expression).

If the answers to these questions support taking corrective action, have an honest, direct, and brief conversation with the worker in complete privacy. Explain what you expect, and why you want the worker's appearance to change.

Instead, listen carefully to figure out what obstacles might be pre­venting the worker from meeting your standards, and do your best to address them. Do not, how­ever, open the floor to debate as to whether the standards are reason­able. If you're applying them fairly and other employees are meeting them, you can expect this worker to do so as well.

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