HR - What's acceptable dress in the office during a heatwave?

Journalist: Dominic Bernard

ended 16. June 2022

Journalist from HR magazine is asking for opinions on whether HR should be policing the dress code during a heatwave. 

Have we learned to chill out during the pandemic? Or is a strappy top just never going to be acceptable?

10 responses from the Newspage community

I didn't realise that dress codes were still a thing in 2022. I don't see where the downside is in letting people wear what they want no matter the temperature. Let people be comfortable and be the best they can be. From the man who wears shorts every single day of the year.
Is company 'dress code' still a thing? I think we have to be realistic here, if the weather is scorching hot, wearing a full uniform can be tricky. I fully appreciate there are some roles that warrant a uniform, however, I believe in this day and age, as long as you are presentable and take care in your appearance, casual smart when meeting clients is absolutely fine.
" I think it is completely ridiculous that in 2022 we still expect people to come into work in formal dress never mind just for a heat wave! Smart work close don't have to be outdated suits, shirts and ties. As a business owner with staff in customer facing roles I have always said that my team can wear what they like as long as its smart, respectable and not jeans or shorts. I find that my team are far more confident and comfortable in the clothing style that they have chosen. In today's modern world where protected characteristics are centre stage how can companies honestly still think it acceptable to dictate what their employee's wear! "
As a trustee of the Ectodermal Dysplasia Society, I am more aware than most of the dangers of a heatwave. Individuals affected by the rare genetic condition Ectodermal Dysplasia have a reduced ability to sweat due to absent or reduced sweat glands and can therefore overheat at any time of year. And, of course, heatwaves create even more risks and challenges for those affected by Ectodermal Dysplasia. Consequently, we'd encourage all employers to make reasonable adaptions, including relaxing dress codes, for everyone during heatwaves. Though, of course, employees also need to be considerate of the needs of the business. As with many HR issues, effective communication is key.
I think we should move on and let HR deal with more important business-focused activities. As managers and organisations we need to shift the focus onto outputs rather than inputs - whether that's the times people work, or the clothes they choose to wear (unless there's a uniform requirement for business reasons). As long as people deliver what you need, expect, and pay for them to deliver does it really matter? We need to create more trust in the workplace to help increase employee engagement and ownership and drive business performance in these challenging times.
After a couple of years doing business at home in our pyjamas, it's about time that employers realised that there is no connection between what an employee wears and their productivity at work. Unless there is a legitimate reason for wearing a uniform at work, employers need to bin dress codes in favour of allowing individuals to wear whatever feels right for them. Gone are the days where we need to wear ridiculously uncomfortable suits to prove how professional we are.
Many people affected by ectodermal dysplasia have hypohidrosis, meaning they cannot sweat, and this is an extremely dangerous symptom of ED. Lack of temperature control causes the sufferer to overheat, leading to fits and worse, death. Prevention for those affected is key. It is imperative they have the option to remove layers of clothing to prevent this from happening. Those affected need to be allowed access to additional aids. The benefits of a damp T-shirt and dampened hat are great. Access must be allowed to refillable water spray bottles that produces a fine mist, portable fans and frequent cool drinks.. HR needs to be mindful of such conditions and be accommodating to the individual in the interest of their health and safety.
I work for myself, so thankfully gone are the days when I've been told that I'd not dressed "appropriately". (I don't think they liked the fact that I wore flat shoes and didn't follow the crowd in wearing clippy cloppy high heels). In all honesty as long as somebody is dressed safely for the work they do (work boots, mop cap to cover hair etc) I'd much rather that they're feeling comfortable in the heat and able to focus on the job that they're doing. There are always going to be some people that look better in a strappy top than others, but it doesn't stop their ability to do their job - and probably, in the heat, actually helps.
Inclusivity, Diversity and Equality can be so much further reaching than just those outlined under employment law, the Equality Act and Protected Characteristics. Businesses that are truly committed to EDI need to think outside of the box when it comes to creating a truly inclusive culture. So where do we stand on the way our employees dress? Where do we draw the line between self-expression and individuality, and workplace appropriateness/suitability? Throw in a heatwave and you potentially have yourself a HR nightmare on your hands. Working from home being so much more commonplace, do we think expectations should change if you’re attending work in person or logging on via computer? And how would a colleague feel sweltering in a shirt in a hot office, while your other colleague is at home in their garden in a strappy top on the same meeting? A one size fits all approach will never work in this scenario, so where does that leave us when creating guidelines for our employees? The best approach will always be to determine why there could potentially be an issue raised. Is it because something is offensive? Is it because it makes someone else uncomfortable? Would you be giving the same feedback to someone of the opposite sex? Having guidance in place that includes words like “comfortable, sensible and appropriate” leaves room for interpretation by employees on how they wish to dress, as well as the opportunity to deal with those who may fall outside of these guidelines from time to time whenever is needed. Policing the masses with strict, and sometimes outdated, dress codes will generally only result in employees feeling belittled, stifled and ultimately disengaged with you as their employer. Guidance is key – allowing employees to feel empowered and encouraged to make their own decisions when it comes to how they dress for work will result in a more colourful, inclusive and relaxed environment for your employees.
A difficult line to tread, as some people can take offence at things that are complete non-events to others. While theoretically the dress code is an agreed element when signing an employment contract, it cannot cover for two more extreme weather events for which climate instability is responsible. Doing something as simple as ensuring air con works is all very well, but we know that this requires additional energy use, as does the use of personal fans - with the added complication of the likelihood of supporting further viral contamination, which is now something we understand so much better. The health of staff should be the ONLY consideration.