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It is currently popular in New Zealand businesses to adopt a casual dress code for employees. This reduces the expectations to wear business attire and embraces a more relaxed work environment. Casual dress codes can have some significant advantages. It can change the culture of your business to be more inclusive and fun and put some staff at ease. However, a few questions should be considered when your business wants to adopt a casual dress code. This article sets out:

  • what a casual dress code is;
  • some of the advantages and disadvantages of adopting one; and
  • the importance of setting clear expectations.

What is a Casual Dress Code?

A casual dress code is surprisingly hard to define. Different workplaces will take different approaches to what exactly is ‘casual’ in the context of that particular workplace. This can also differ by industry. Casual can include extremely casual attire, such as a t-shirt and shorts. However, in a professional environment, a shift to a relaxed dress code may instead look like ‘business casual’. This means giving up a tie and suit jacket, but wearing suit trousers and a collared shirt. Because of the ambiguity in the term ‘casual dress’, it is important to be clear with your employees about expectations. You may also want to speak with others in your business about what ‘casual’ should mean in the context of your business. 

A relaxed dress code will usually mean suits and formal dresses are not required and employees can wear less formal clothing. If your business is customer-facing in some way, this may change what ‘casual’ will mean. For formal meetings, you might want to ensure a certain level of professionalism in front of clients or customers. You can also set the tone through how you dress. There are other options as well. You could embrace a ‘casual Friday’ approach so employees can wear less formal wear on a specific day of the week. Even then, you may want to think about what counts as ‘casual’ – are jandals acceptable in your office? Different businesses will respond differently to that question.   

Advantages and Disadvantages

There are both advantages and disadvantages of a casual dress code. Some advantages include that your employees will, in all likelihood, appreciate the lessened pressure to dress formally in the office. Formal clothing such as suits and high heels are also expensive, and dressing casually is often more affordable and offers more choice to employees. It can help some workers feel at ease in the office and promote a more fun and open atmosphere in the workplace. Depending on your business’ industry, it can also help clients, customers, and suppliers feel more at ease. For instance, in the technology sector, a relaxed dress code is quite common, and this might be an easy fit for your business.

While there are disadvantages to relaxed dress codes, these largely depend on your business needs. It can be a frustrating experience if you have not communicated expectations clearly to employees and they dress too formally for an important client meeting, for instance. There may also be other instances where a more professional look is important for your business, which a casual dress code can interfere with. However, these challenges can be managed. 

Setting Clear Expectations

The key to making a relaxed dress code successful is setting clear expectations for employees as to what is and is not acceptable in the office environment. As has been alluded to in this article, it is not particularly straightforward to think about what ‘casual’ actually means. There are a few ways of approaching this as a business. 

You could take the approach of creating guidelines telling employees what not to wear. For instance, you might want to restrict beachwear such as jandals, but essentially tell employees that anything other than what is on that list is okay to wear. You can also be a bit more instructive and set out (in general terms) what a casual dress code includes. You do not want to be too specific when detailing what your employees should wear, so this can be tricky to draft. Getting advice in this situation from an expert can be the key to making a dress code change a success.

Key Takeaways

There are good reasons why so many New Zealand businesses are embracing a casual dress code. It makes going to work less stressful and can sometimes be more fun for employees. It can also reduce the expense of buying a work wardrobe, and positively affect the workplace culture. The key to making a dress code change a success is to clearly articulate your expectations, including if there are clothing choices that would be inappropriate in the context of your business or industry. If you would like more information about casual dress codes or how to put new policies in place, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a casual dress code?

A ‘casual dress code’ can include various types of casual attire, from very casual attire, such as a t-shirt and shorts, to ‘business casual’ outfits. The uniting feature of casual wear is that it does not require formal clothing, like suits, to be worn.

Should all businesses adopt a casual dress code?

Some businesses may not want to adopt a casual dress code because there is a need in their particular industry or work to reflect a professional atmosphere or a company uniform exists. However, most businesses may benefit from making their dress code more casual.

What are the advantages of offering a casual dress code?

A casual dress code can reduce costs for workers in acquiring a work wardrobe, make the atmosphere at work more fun and inclusive, and put clients and customers at ease.

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