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Susan Raftery: Tis the season... to wear jumpers

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Susan Raftery discusses dress codes on Christmas Jumper Day.

Susan Raftery Susan Raftery, Conciliator

Susan Raftery is a Conciliator based in Manchester.

Susan joined Acas in 2009 having previously been a partner in a law firm, as a practising solicitor specialising in Employment law. Susan is a qualified trainer delivering Acas training on both Open Access Events and in-company working out of the North West region and is also part of the Collective Conciliation team based in the Manchester office.

The chance to dress up in glitter and fairy lights is upon us again. Yes, Christmas Jumper Day, on Friday December 14th, gives us all free rein to look silly and raise money for the charity 'Save the Children'. Surely, when it comes to charity, anything goes?

It's a common dilemma for many workplaces - trying to get the balance right between allowing individual expression about what people wear and making sure you keep an eye on business standards. Interestingly, the Acas research paper pdf icon Dress codes and appearance at work: Body supplements, body modification and aesthetic labour [578kb] has shown that although many employers see a 'professional appearance' as critical to engaging with their customers, very few discuss dress codes with new staff during the recruitment and induction stages.

If managers want to set the right tone about what is acceptable throughout the year, and not just at Christmas, where's the best place to start? Our research found that managers often rely on humour to nudge employees into conforming with corporate values, but do not make enough use of company policies.

Policies are often maligned but they do at least provide transparency and clarity for managers and their staff. For example, your workplace might allow employees to wear jeans on "dress down Fridays" but insist that they wear more formal clothes if they are meeting customers or attending external events. Organisations may also have restrictions on how 'dressed down' staff can be. Jeans may be ok, but what about the now fashionably ripped jeans? If t-shirts are given the green light, does this cover t-shirts with provocative or political statements?

This brings us to the hot topic currently gripping the nation: Christmas jumpers! Wanting to be seen to make an effort for the office charity fundraiser is understandable. And ordering the right festive jumper can be tricky. Do you go for the reindeer or something outrageously silly which could veer towards inappropriate innuendos? It can be tempting to think that if it's for charity anything goes and managers do not want to appear as killjoys. Isn't the whole point of the Christmas Jumper Day that we get to wear tacky clothing that we wouldn't be seen dead in the rest of the year?

As with other potential pitfalls around the festive season the advice has to be to use a common sense approach. Remember when companies first started suggesting that getting blind drunk at the Christmas party was not the best way for employees to behave? At the time the label "Scrooge" was bandied about but nowadays most employees understand the repercussions of one too many flaming Sambucas in the company of their work colleagues. So dig out your dress code and send out a gentle reminder that not everyone will find a row of naked elves doing the cancan acceptable!

Happy Christmas everyone.

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