How to Tell an Employee to Dress More Professionally

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“We need to talk about the way you dress when you are at work.” This is a statement that no manager wants to say to an employee. Because the topic of personal dress and grooming can be so awkward, it is often avoided. This can result in a company having employees who may be good at what they do, but don’t look the part. Is this the case with your personnel?

Do Your Employees Know Your Expectations of Their Appearance?

All employers have standards for their workers. The trouble is, not all of these standards (especially those that are sensitive in nature) get communicated. Workplace behavior experts Wade Miller and Richard Brodeur aptly refer to these standards as workplace expectations. They tell managers that not all workplace expectations are common knowledge, but all must be communicated effectively for a company to run smoothly.

A basic expectation that nearly all those in management positions have of their employees is “dress in a way that represents the company well and shows respect to your peers.” Exact dress codes vary from workplace to workplace, but the standard of dressing professionally never changes.

How to Tell an Employee to Dress More Professionally

Do you have at least one employee who does not dress as professionally as you’d like? If so, here are some tips that may help you gently but directly let these individuals know that their appearance needs to improve:

  • Consider having a witness present when meeting with an employee over the issue of appearance. This will help you avoid sexual harassment claims.


  • Avoid discrimination. In her article How to Address the Inappropriate Dress of an Employee, Melanie Martin wrote, “Ensure your claim against the employee’s dress doesn’t constitute discrimination. Remember that banning religious or native dress could be discriminatory. Refusing to let disabled individuals modify the dress code as needed can be discriminatory, too.”


  • Watch your wording. Instead of telling an employee, “Your appearance is too messy,” say, “I think your appearance could be more polished.” Or, rather than say, “Your clothes are too revealing,” explain, “It would be beneficial for you to dress more modestly.” Use language that is clear, but also kind.


  • Create a written dress code if your company doesn’t already have one (just make sure that it’s legal). This will give you something to refer to when discussing issues of appearance and grooming with your personnel.



Have you ever had to communicate to an employee that he or she did not dress suitably for work? If so, how did you handle the situation, and what was the outcome?


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