DressSo my boss wants to introduce a "dress code" at work. I was quite taken aback because it has been quite mellow working for her, and this is obviously not mellow. So I wrote her a letter:
Rather than stew on it, I thought I should mention this to you.
I was shocked and a bit upset that you want to impose a dress code. It seems so contrary to how you run your business. I wanted to discuss it with you, but not at the meeting, because I do not think it would be reasonable to seem to be causing trouble in that setting.
There are many ways to look at workplaces, but in my experience, they tend to be of two types. In one type, the workplace is collegiate, or adult. People are treated as responsible beings, trusted to achieve the goals of the organisation. They never feel coerced into doing what they do not want to, because they are only asked to do their professional duties. These are far the best workplaces to find yourself in, because you do not need to concern yourself with office politics and you feel respected and valued. In what you might describe as the school-type, or juvenile, workplace, things are different. Here you are not trusted, and bosses are concerned with the exercise of power, particularly in areas that are not directly concerned with work.
The key element of the collegiate workplace is consensus. Your boss does not have to give you orders, because he or she is never asking anything you would not agree was necessary to achieve the objectives you have been set. The boss exercises leadership with consent. It is no problem to do what they ask because you agree that it needs to be done.The key element of the school-type workplace is bullying. The boss exercises leadership by coercion. You are forced to do what he or she wants because of the implicit threat to your livelihood. Some of the demands placed on you are arbitrary or petty. You know the kind of thing I mean: in a collegiate workplace, if you need to be late into work because you have to see a doctor, or deliver your children to school, it is no drama, because you are trusted to complete the work before you in any case, and trusted to be reliable and honest about what you are doing. In the school-type workplace, this sort of thing creates a huge drama. I have worked in places in which a boss would ensure that you were docked pay -- even in a monthly paid job -- for turning up late. You can imagine that that does not create a happy work environment.
As far as dress codes go, it would be clearly reasonable were we customer facing to ask that we dress in a particular way. I'm not a huge fan of banks' asking their staff to wear corporate uniforms, but the notion that you should present yourself in a particular way in that enivronment is not unreasonable. Same too is something like the police, where one dresses in a uniform so as to be recognisable by the people you serve.
But we do not face customers. The only reason you have a dress code is that you want it. It is not a reasonable requirement of the workplace, because it is entirely arbitrary. There is no purpose for it but to please you. Well, of course, you pay my wages, and I'm inclined to please you. But I feel comfortable enough with you to let you know that I'm unhappy about it, and in my opinion, it changes the character of the workplace from a friendly, collegiate environment in which each feels secure and content to one in which the arbitrary exercise of power breeds insecurity. After all, in a school, the children must obey arbritary rules set by the principal, but they do not like it. In a university, one is not hassled about things that are not connected to study, such as one's clothing, and it is a much better place to study in.