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Beard debate prompts focus on personal appearance in the workplace

BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman's recent decision to grow a beard has prompted a flurry of debate on social media. People clearly feel strongly about beards, but as a more casual approach to appearance makes its mark in many workplaces, where should employers position themselves?

For office workers, the tie has largely disappeared and casual dressing is often encouraged on a particular day of the week, such as 'dress-down Friday'.

The position on visible tattoos and piercings is more complicated - employees in customer-facing roles who turn up for work with a new tattoo have lost their jobs, with employers citing customer complaints as the rationale. Police forces will not recruit applicants with visible tattoos.

Facial hair is positively encouraged in some workplaces in November, when the charity Movember encourages employees to grow moustaches and beards for a month to raise awareness of men's health issues.

Personal appearance certainly has an impact on the overall feel, culture and atmosphere of a workplace. It affects how employees relate to each other and the company's customers, their morale and motivation.

The trend for casual style at work began about 20 years ago, following the example of creative media and new technology companies in the US. Many found that the emphasis on individuality and creativity made for a happier, more productive working environment.

In the end, it is up to the employer to strike the right balance depending on the nature of the business, the outlook of their employees and customers and the working environment they are trying to create.

Any employer operating a dress code must be aware of the equality and diversity issues. This might include being sensitive to the cultural and religious needs of employees and making provisions for them in dress requirements. It's important that new employees know what to expect, so any dress policy should form part of an organisation's induction programme.

Acas has produced the Advisory booklet - The People Factor - engage your employees for business success, which touches on organisational culture and dress codes. Acas also gives advice, guidance and training on Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions page for more information.

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