Do You Need A Policy?

Marisa Keegan Culture, Marisa Keegan

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of corporate policies and that I think HR professionals like to create them as a way to manage a large number of people without ever having to leave the comfort of their desk chair – god forbid we give that seat cushion a break and walk around the office once in a while, right?

Years ago, when I was working for a small technology start-up, I was asked to create some kind of employee handbook because people…well, they’re brainwashed by the notion that they need 150 pages of legal jargon to tell them how to act and our employees wanted some guidelines.

So they got a five page handbook that was written in exactly the same voice as this blog post. It had all kinds of important bits of information about insurance, parking, office hours, and dress code. The dress code policy was, and I quote, “Don’t be the person who forces Marisa to create a dress code.” Employees loved the policy and to this day if you ask any them what the dress code was they’ll be able to tell you word for word. Mission accomplished.

Remember, I was working for a technology company where our customers never saw us face-to-face so it was completely acceptable for employees to wear whatever they wanted. One day a guy came in wearing a shirt that read, “My favorite ride is yo mama”,  and that wasn’t okay – but besides that pretty much anything goes. So I had some freedom in my dress-code-policy-making.

But last week I was at the doctor with my grandfather, who is getting ready to have major surgery, when a group of medical professionals came into the room – all of them in scrubs, one wearing a college hoodie. Turns out the head surgeon was the one wearing the hoodie and for some reason it really turned me off. I kept having flashbacks to Friday morning classes in college where the hungover frat guys came stumbling into class wearing their scrubs and frat hoodies…and in a matter of hours this guy was going to have my grandfather’s heart in his hands?! The first thought I had was, “Isn’t there a policy against hoodies at work?”

I hate myself for even thinking that!

So my question for you: Are there certain industries or jobs where there should truly be a dress code? What are some industries where it gets vague? Because my lawyer showed up in jeans to our last meeting and I didn’t mind but a surgeon shows up in a hoodie and I’m not so cool with it. Is that fair?

Marisa Keegan

Marisa is a Culture Coach for small and quickly growing organizations trying to establish the infrastructure required to create a company full of passionate, motivated, and engaged employees. She has held culture and engagement roles for two nationally recognized great places to work, founded the research and networking group Culture Fanatics, and is an industry recognized blogger. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and twin boys and is looking forward to the day she can bike across the country to raise money for MS research. @marisakeegan.