Employee appearance presents a thorny issue. You don’t want to make an employee self-conscious or hurt feelings, but at the same time, there’s no denying a person’s appearance can affect his or her success in the workplace.
Amy Gallo offers some advice on providing feedback on employee appearance on a Harvard Business Review blog. First, she suggests, you should question your assumptions. Are the employee’s clothes really hurting his or her ability to be taken seriously? Or do you simply have different taste? Consider any bias you might bring to the situation, and look for concrete evidence that the employee’s appearance is undermining his or her success. For example, does it violate an explicit dress code? Has it distracted people from focusing on the content the employee is delivering? Have you received negative feedback from important stakeholders?
If you determine that you do need to address the situation, don’t assume the conversation will be awkward. You should prepare for pushback, defensiveness, or hurt feelings, but they may not even occur. It’s possible the employee is just unaware of the team, organization, or industry norms for appearance.
Make sure you have a sound argument grounded in business reasons, though. Don’t make it about right/wrong, good/bad, or decent/indecent. Explain how appearance can help employees improve internal and external relationships (being careful to avoid potentially discriminatory statements).
Finally, provide some solid advice on how the employee can address the problem. Restate the norms you’d like the employee to comply with. Make it clear that you want employees to dress in a way that is comfortable for them but within the norms. For example, you might say “More tailored is better than too short or too tight.”