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Will the UK review Uniform & Dress code practices in the public sector in the coming months?

Published on July 11, 2020

Your staff’s professional image has to serve two separate needs, one the needs of your customer (primary functions of your business) and the second is their individual needs as an employee. Your goal is to meet the needs of both or in some circumstances prioritise one over the other i.e. NHS.

Companies spend thousands of pounds every year on expensive branding campaigns, logo design, web design, marketing material, ad campaigns, vehicle signage and interiors because they understand that their customers perception and visual communication of them matters. What is remarkable though is that they often forget about the people who deliver those services and products to the consumer and how important their image is as both a marketing & operational tool.

Two excellent examples are Pixar studios & British Airways. Pixars primary goal is to ignite and support their employees in a creative and energetic working environment. In an organisation where employees have no or limited contact with the end consumer a uniform would be a destructive obstacle to expressing their creativity, here the employee’s needs are paramount. Paradoxically with a company such as British Airways cabin crew, the customer is king their role as a company is to first and foremost demonstrate through their image; authority, confidence, professionalism and assertiveness. Their role is to execute a first class level of service and maintain a reasonable level of authority and reassurance for issuing safety or security measures in the event of an accident.

Consumers today are exceptionally image savvy and due to the volume of subliminal marketing and advertising that we are bombarded with daily we are all acutely aware if the image being painted for us is false or incongruent with your brand and marketing message. Many successful companies like Google, Apple & Innocents (Health drinks) thrive because they are totally transparent and genuine about their priorities as a company. They realised from day one that there was no place for dress codes or uniforms because their organisation is primarily about self expression and creativity and serve their customers by ensuring the integrity of their creativity in every aspect of their business. Other international companies i.e. Disney, McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, UPS etc realise that a uniform and dress code must be executed precisely and is essential to their brand identity, company success and profitability because their role is to serve the customers needs before their needs as an employee.

Clothing and image can be a very emotive issue for many people, because primarily it is a major part of self expression and personal identity. Secondly many of our clothing choices are made emotionally rather than rationally. When assessing your company culture you have to address the balance between personal freedom of self expression which I passionately believe in and common sense where strict disciplined images are essential in the workplace. Customers today expect and demand leadership, confidence and assertiveness from public institutions & private companies in how they present their brand.

First and foremost individuals must accept even in the 21st century there are some occupations particularly in the public sector where dress codes and uniforms, colour identification and classification are not merely useful but necessary. Personal image is irrelevant where uniforms must communicate authority, confidence, respect and maintain order & safety i.e. Police, Fire Service, Military, Hospitals, Immigration, Legal profession, Aviation etc.

With the recent Covid epidemic and the use of PPE & Face masks which inadvertently obscures ones identity, never has it been more important to use clear colour classifications. Plus new solutions to identifying individual employees in the workplace i.e. 

  • Staff nurse wear blue uniform with white stripe. 
  • Paramedics in their distinct dark green uniforms.

In the coming months I anticipate a new question being raised about the necessary analysis and review on the practice of Dr’s & Consultants wearing civilian clothes in Hospitals & GP’s surgeries. Plus a review of how both Nurses & Bank Nurses uniforms and Care Home employees & residents clothing are effectively laundered. (see article Washing Face Masks Taken from– How safe is the laundering of uniforms by staff at home? What can be done to reduce the risk of bacterial survival and contamination? )

Never has uniforms, dress code policies and an understanding of the visual communication of dress been more important in our public sector!