How to Have the Dress Code Talk With Your Group Practice

I don't know about y'all but the world has changed a little since I was in grad school. New grads and new group practice owners have reached out a lot recently about two things: tattoos visible in the office and the dreaded dress code conversation with new staff or supervisees.

I think we can all agree that there's bigger stuff going on in the world right now than a clinician having a visible quarter-sleeve tattoo or wearing a ripped pair of jeans to session. Unless someone's coming to work dressed as Batman, we can all agree that this isn't that big of a deal.

So how do you have these conversations as a group practice owner? If we were chatting I’d ask what about the dress code or visible tattoos matters to you. What are the real sticking points vs what would you be willing to let go of? In what ways are you afraid it will impact care or your group’s reputation? I ask this because I think we should always question our assumptions about what our employees “should” be doing to make sure it’s not our issues with bodies or fashion and because if we determine it does impact client care or our reputation, you need to be ready to answer it concisely when your staff challenge you. Also, be prepared to have the conversation when you hire or take on a supervisee. It's not a kindness to let someone think something is okay when it isn't - and pivoting after the fact may feel and look worse reputation-wise than not addressing your expectations upfront. 

Once you’ve gotten clear on where the line is, the very first step for group owners is looking at your policy and procedure manual and making sure there’s something that addresses the dress code or tattoos in there. If there’s not, add something and be specific. Then bring the addendum around and have each employee sign it. I’m assuming and hoping they’re employees. I’m not sure you can dictate what a contractor wears beyond the whole don’t come to work dressed as Batman thing.

I’d also broadly address it as a group in a meeting if you have more than one person. Not in a way that’s up for discussion, but letting them know that you’re making it an official policy and answering questions about the specifics like “are ripped jeans ok or not if I’m wearing a button-down.” This will not be a popular decision. That’s ok. You don’t own this practice to be Captain Popularity. But present it and respond with as little defensiveness as you can muster. Which, unless you have a real glaring problem of someone wearing really and I mean really inappropriate clothing (I’m talking like the Bud Lite t-shirt somebody won at the Delta Kappa bash in 1992 and ripped sweatpants kind of inappropriate), I think everybody is probably going to be reasonable and agree with the dress code. 

I’m coming back to this again because I think it’s important to consider; really address this during the hiring process. If they’re a new grad or coming from agency work, your potential employees may not have the cash on hand for an entirely new wardrobe, or even a black pair of slacks from the mall (do people still go to the mall?). Bring up your expectations (and check in with yourself to make sure they’re reasonable) early so they’re not caught off guard. 

It’s your practice, this is a reasonable thing for you to decide. If it’s a deal-breaker for them then they can make the choice to leave. If you have a healthy, happy work environment in your practice, they’ll ask their questions, maybe voice some frustration, and take it in stride.



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