Does Your Business Have An Employee Uniform Policy?

June 18, 2012

One aspect of the customer experience that is seldom discussed is how employees represent the brand “in uniform,” even when they are not working at the counter or desk.

My wife went to a local bagel franchise last week, and as she was leaving, she noticed an employee of the bagel store in the parking lot digging through her car. The employee’s hair was unwashed, she had a cigarette dangling out of her mouth, and her uniform was dirty, both in general and with cigarette ash.

My wife described her as “looking like she just came off a three day bender.”

As you can imagine, this employee did not do anything to help build the brand of this business. She parked right in front of the store, visible to customer traffic, and between her appearance and the cigarette, she presented an image of someone most people would not want handling their food.

Were expectations such as park around back and don’t smoke in uniform on site ever communicated to this employee? We will never know. However, one thing is certain: whether she was untrained or untrainable, she did damage to that location and that brand on that particular morning.

The Employee Uniform Is Not Literal

It is not important whether or not a business has an identifiable uniform or a formal uniform policy.

What is important is that all businesses have occasions when employees are off the proverbial clock but still “in uniform” representing the brand. Whether it’s how employees should behave at trade show after-parties or govern themselves on social media, expectations about how employees should behave when representing a brand are crucial.

Many times, the customer experience begins when a customer is exposed to a brand through contact with one of the brand’s representatives.

Helping to make sure that experience begins a positive relationship with the brand is crucial in kicking off a customer experience that will separate you from your competition.

Every business needs “in uniform” expectations. Is it clear to your team how they should act when representing your brand?

17 thoughts on “Does Your Business Have An Employee Uniform Policy?”

  1. We’ve all come into a restaurant, took one look at the waiters, order-takers, or chefs, and walked back out. I get that people have their Days. Have you seen instances where employers offer a training on how to deal with Days like that so they don’t get mixed up into the image of the brand customers see–or something like a decompressing chamber to release stress not related to the job before beginning work?

    1. I have mixed feelings on training like that, but even for those who believe in it, I think allow it to get pushed off their plate by other things. Particularly, once you’ve set the basic standards of professionalism for your business, there is often an expectation that “now you know.” I think if the person can be trained; they should almost always be given the chance.

      1. I have mixed feelings, too–I know I probably wouldn’t really appreciate it as an employee–especially if it were packaged in just that way–but I was wondering if “they” had come up with anything innovative in this alley. Because you have to wonder why, in your example, the woman came to work anyway. If her lifestyle is such that she always looks like that, she’s going to need a bit more help than any employer could provide, but if she’s desperate, maybe a bit of discreet support in the area of protocol could give her what she needs to carry on the next day.

        1. I don’t really know of anything innovative in this area. It’s really about expectations. Why did she come to work? My guess, she needed the hours and did the bare minimum to show up and clock in. Was she having a bad day or is this who she is every day? That’s the catch; it doesn’t matter to the customer; she represents the brand when in uniform. Even if she is having an off day, it can’t be that far off — ever.

          Hopefully, as you say, she can be supported towards wanting to do better.

  2. Maybe I’m old school, but in a work environment I prefer to look ‘nice.’ Some seem to equate casual as sloppy and in the back of my mind I’m thinking ‘why would you want to give off that impression?’ People probably think their work will reflect their appearance.

    The male employees in our office still wear ties to work… Florida. But I’m ok with that because I don’t mind dressing ‘up’ and looking my best.

    1. I am notoriously over-dressed, which in my position means business casual.

      So funny you mention the Florida thing Bill. When I first moved here, I had a true culture shock on business dress. I come from that Eastern seaboard traditional environment, and I was floored when I showed up to meetings (for substantial deals) and was met by people in shorts and sandals. I still “overdress,” but the F-L-A is definitely more west coast than east when it comes to the dress norms.

  3. I don’t understand why unkempt, in attire or hygiene, is acceptable in the workplace. I’m sure there will be some who believe that we, as employers, have no “right” to outline our expectations, because that’s trampling on human rights, freedom of expression and all, you know. (insert grimace here)

    My recent experience of customer dis-service, which I didn’t even mention in my post, was exacerbated by the dishevelled appearance of the clerk: wrinkled shirt (and I mean wrinkled! Like it had gone through a small tornado), hair askew (looking like it perhaps hadn’t been brushed in days) and get this…dirty fingernails…in a place that handles food!

    I was also recently in a business where one of the employees was wearing yoga pants that I’m sure were sprayed on. Nothing left to the imagination.

    I don’t know if employers are too scared to comment, oblivious or simply don’t care, but to me, it’s important to encourage people to dress and present with pride. Come to work with a neat, clean appearance or go home and change is my rule. And if someone doesn’t know what that means, I’m happy to outline expectations in detail. Cheers! Kaarina

    1. You know, I think a lot of employers either don’t have the expectations set at the top or fail to set them early and are scared to “take it back.” I think every business, within the law, has the right to set expectations of how their team members present themselves when representing the brand.

      It’s bad enough when you see behavior that hurts the brand “off the clock” as we discuss in the post, but when those behaviors or habits extend to the actual business duties, like you describe, it takes it to a whole new level. We are 100% on the same page — it’s about setting expectations (and meaning it)!

  4. Hi Adam such a pleasure to connect! I found you in the Famous Blogger post today! Saved your blog to my favs! I only worked for one company that required a uniform and they have strick rules. First you must know I’m Canadian so the story is from a wail-mart Canada perspective. When you go on lunch or break you must remove your vest prior to walking back and using your punch card to go on break, also you may not wear your uniform outside the store unless you are in fact at work and on duty.

    1. Great to connect with you as well! Welcome to CTS.

      Thank you for sharing your story; it is interesting to learn about the policies at different companies. It’s obvious the company realizes that employees are representing their brand when wearing the company vest. Also, in the retail environment, I would guess they don’t want people in uniform on break because they don’t want customers to approach them for assistance and be told “sorry, I’m on my break!”

      1. Yeah that was a huge part of it, you know as much as Wal-Mart is this huge corporate giant I learned a lot of tips n how to provide customers service from that company. I worked there fro 3 years I wouldn’t change anything, what an amazing experience.

  5. Pingback: Your Business and the Road Less Traveled

  6. So Adam, you’re known to be a sharp dresser, eh? Then you never have to worry about running into a client or potential customer at the grocery store!

    I think about things like that when I’m out and about, sans makeup, and wearing my favorite tie-dyed Pittsburgh Steelers t-shirt and my faded-nearly-to-worn-out jeans. “Gah! What if I get into a conversation with someone who needs our services? What will I say?”

    It just happened a few days ago, when Scott and I were at a little hole-in-the-wall pizza joint we never go to. We’d been shopping all day long — for a “uniform” we could wear to shoot video in front of 45,000 people the next day at the local Air Show, believe it or not! — and we were dressed way more than “down.” I was wearing a T-shirt from our church, an old pair of jeans, no makeup, and having a bad hair day.

    We ended up striking up a conversation with the family at the next table about their adorable toddler, and then the Dad asks, “Are you going to the Air Show tomorrow?” Gah!!

    We told him we’d been hired to shoot video of the National Anthem, and then he asked us *sigh* what we do. We told him — and we told him the name of our COMPANY — and I just wanted to crawl under a rock. He started talking about marketing, asking questions about social meia, the whole nine yards.

    Turns out, he’s a recruiter for the RI Air National Guard, and interested in using social media to reach young people. And here we are, the folks who can deliver for him, and we look like we’ve been moving furniture all day.

    We saw the officer the next day, at the Air Show, and in a professional capacity. He walked by with 64 young recruits, and stopped to talk to us — only this time, we were wearing our nice, neat, professional-looking matching outfits! I’m surprised he recognized us!

    1. What a great story Michelle! No, I’m not always in biz clothes, so I definitely have thought about the “grocery store” thing too. The thing in Florida is that it is soooo casual. People show up to meetings in jeans and tee shirts. So, the good news is if I do run into someone at the store there’s a good chance they are not in their business best anyway! 🙂 However, it’s happened a few times, and I know that feeling you describe.

      The good news is at least you got to see the recruiter again at the air show and make another impression! Hope it can turn into something for you.

      Thanks for taking the time to share!

  7. Employers should have a lot of flexibility in creating an appropriate dress code for their environment. As workplace dress codes have relaxed over the past few decades, businesses have become more lenient on what attire is allowed.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts Abboudrashid. I agree standards are changing, but I would also say that employers should be careful, as there seems to be a proven correlation between how someone is dressed and how professional they are perceived to be. The expectations in the industry are very important.

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