On a Monday morning, he walks into office clad in a sleeveless shirt, distressed jeans and sneakers. His colleagues give him ‘the look’ but he doesn’t notice. He goes about his business, waiting for the morning meeting. His boss spots him and calls him to his office.
“Good morning. We need to talk about the way you dress to work,” the boss says. “What is wrong with how I’m dressed?” the employee asks.
Such cases are common, as many companies might not have a standard dress code for employees. The issue of dress code goes both ways; some men have expressed concern about women who show more ‘flesh’ than their colleagues care to see, some would call them a ‘distraction’.
So, when and where do we draw the line with what is acceptable and what is not? Do companies need a general uniform? Can’t we just all be respectful and considerate of others and dress appropriately, regardless of what it is we do? These are some of the concerns that people have regarding dress code at the workplace.
Clive Tumusiime, a sales agent, almost lost a client because of the way he was dressed, as he later came to learn. Dressed in a pair of faded jeans and a pale shirt, he set out to meet a high-end client for a prospective business deal. But things didn’t turn out well for him.
Tumusiime isn’t required to wear a suit to work; however, an unkempt look, regardless of what you do, could cost you more than you think.
Jean de Dieu Uwimana, an ICT system auditor, says that dress code matters a lot because one’s appearance not only affects how others perceive them, it also affects how they perceive themselves.
“When we look ‘confident’, we are more likely to feel confident,” he says.
Uwimana is of the view that it could be wise for companies to enforce a dress code, because dressing in proper attire presents a visual image and sends a message that employees are professional.
“The dress code in our company is ‘corporate smart’ and it has made an impact on me as I’m identified as someone decent who represents my company well, not just in what I do, but in how I look,” he adds.
Laban Bizimungu, a cashier with UAE Exchange, agrees with Uwimana saying that dress code matters.
“Our dress code at work is white shirts and black trousers with black shoes and a red tie,” he says. “We look smart and presentable to our clients in that when they come for our services, they know that they are dealing with professional people.”
Aside from being decent and presentable, Bizimungu says that a proper dress code helps clients easily identify staff of that particular company.
Henry Malumba, an engineer, is of the view that workplaces should not be like schools as no adult likes such control. Strict rules, especially regarding attire, for adults will only create a ‘stiff’ environment at work which can be detrimental.
“As Rwandans we should strive to maintain decency but I don’t think we need rules to stress this factor, it should be a natural part of us,” he says.
Vestine Uwamahoro, a procurement officer, says the dress code at work matters to her because a uniform makes employees feel smart.
She adds that a dress code favours a good working environment and the company is well represented outside.
“When you see someone from Rwanda Revenue Authority, for example, you already know where he or she works and it is good. I wish every organisation could have a dress code based on the good impact it has,” Uwamahoro says.
Maureen Atuhirwe has thoughts on decency and matters of sexual harassment at the workplace. She says some women take advantage of the freedom provided by some companies and dress indecently.
“Without official attire, some people end up going for skimpy or revealing outfits and such things can prompt cases of sexual harassment.
“I wouldn’t say strict rules will curb sexual harassment but I believe it can be of importance in preventing certain scenarios,” she points out.
“How we dress, especially as women, matters a lot. Of course, if you dress provocatively there are likely to be consequences. It is best we stick with professionalism, and most importantly, decency,” Atuhirwe adds.
Ashley Rudo Chisamba, a communications officer, says rules on dress code at work are necessary, especially if one is in a professional setting; however, it shouldn’t be enforced as this is usually unbalanced and discriminates against women.
“An organisation can generally insist on formal wear but not enforce certain items such as heels and stockings,” she suggests.
“I am fortunate because I work for an organisation that acknowledges the importance of diversity in several things, including dressing. And that reassures me that it is a safe space where I can freely express myself and work positively,” Chisamba notes.
Jacob Morgan, author of “The Employee Experience Advantage”, says the future of work is all about empowering employees to work, and for most employees, that doesn’t involve wearing a suit.
Dress code affects a lot of what we do at work and how we do it. Dress code alone is only a small aspect of the workplace, but it represents the company culture and how management views its employees. What we wear has a huge effect on how we feel and act. Forcing employees to come to work in a suit every day creates a conservative and stuffy environment that doesn’t breed change. A stodgy dress code isn’t conducive to collaboration, creativity, or trust — if a company is controlling so strictly what its employees wear, how will those employees ever feel comfortable trying a new idea, making a suggestion, or being creative and forward-thinking?, he writes.
“Of course there are situations where employees should be in more professional attire, for a big meeting or when interacting with clients, for example. However, if an employee isn’t meeting with customers or executives, they really don’t need to be dressed to the nines. As long as employees are decent and comfortable, that should be enough for most managers.”
Charles Shyaka, a business development and marketing manager, notes that at his workplace, there is no specific dress code and he sees it impactful to all employees as it creates an unrestricted environment.
He believes that as long as someone is smart, a strict law of either wearing black or green in many cases turns to be like a punishment.
Joseph Harerimana, the human resource manager at UAE Exchange, says that even though there is no law set up for dress code, some companies choose to have this for different reasons.
He says that in their organisation, they have a dress code; black and white suits.
Apart from being smart, he believes that a dress code creates unity at a workplace.
“A dress code matters a lot, especially in our company, it resonates with our logo. It is an added value as it means a lot in terms of making you feel part of a big family,” he says.