Staff dress codes and uniform policies can be very difficult to manage. Sometimes it seems like you just can’t make everyone happy, including the practice owner! I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but the way your staff looks on the job is important to your practice success. I’ll provide some tips in this article that will help you develop your office policy and make most people happy.
Staff apparel should reflect the personality of the practice. There are many different looks that work very well and I can’t advise you on what to choose. Think about your practice marketing goals and the image that fits with that. It could be medical, upscale retail, corporate, family-friendly, professional, formal or casual. Look at other businesses in and out of health care for inspiration.
Make it an employment benefit
While I can’t advise you on what style to choose, I will recommend that the practice provide uniforms or some part of the apparel as an employment benefit.
The image of your practice to patients is far better when everyone looks great. Providing uniforms lets the practice owner control the look.
There is a big impact when most or all employees wear the same styles and colors. You can decide if the uniform is exactly the same for all or has coordinating mix and match pieces.
The practice logo has a positive impact on the perception of quality. I recommend you have your practice name and logo embroidered or screened onto the garments for a customized, upscale look.
Employees may not buy good quality or replace uniforms frequently enough if they are paying for them.
Employees may not use good taste if they choose the uniform on their own.
Staff members have a better attitude and more self-confidence when they like what they wear and when they look good.
Where to buy?
There are many good sources for uniforms. Local uniform shops may give you better service, including quick help with replacements, fill orders for new employees, exchanges, advice, and try-on service. There are also very good sources online. Land’s End Business is a popular source for an upscale look. Logo sportswear shops online can supply something different for special needs.
How often and how many?
This depends on the practice budget to some extent and something is better than nothing. I think the practice should supply at least a minimum amount of tops and pants so a person does not have to buy them. You might provide uniforms twice per year, possibly two pairs of pants and two tops for each person. You may also supply a clinic jacket to wear over the top for warmth on a less frequent basis. Depending on your climate, you might choose different styles or colors for winter and summer. Of course, employees can buy additional items if they choose.
Here are a few tips based on experience:
Unless your practice is unique, I would look for some amount of polyester in the fabric so it won’t wrinkle too much when washed.
You will most likely need a product that comes in a size range from extra small to XXX large. Look for that early in the shopping process.
Consider buying a couple of sample pieces in different sizes to allow staff to try them on for size before ordering a large quantity.
Wash the sample garments to see how they look and try them on again for the shrinkage factor.
Who should wear the uniform?
There are many opinions on this and I think it is ultimately up to the practice owner. You may want an office manager to wear business apparel and not a uniform. The doctors will most likely dress differently as well. There is a school of thought that says people who wear high fashion clothing can sell high end optical better. There is also something to be said about the impact of more people wearing the colors and styles of the uniform. That is impressive to patients and they can immediately tell who works for the practice. In my experience, it is easier to sell eyewear when it is prescribed and has a medical perception. When it feels more like retail, the patient becomes more of a consumer. I suppose the best image for optical sales is borrowing a bit from both retail and health care.
It might be time to change your thinking
Be aware that times are changing and so are social values. We may not all like that, but if you want to keep your practice image up to date, you can’t think the same way you did 30 years ago. Consider that the dress code can have a big impact on the moral and attitude of employees. It is OK to have some fun in the office! We are moving to casual Fridays with our practice supplying a colorful long sleeve T-shirt with our logo and the employee’s first name screened on the front and a motto screened on the back. The staff members can wear blue jeans with this – which they love! We are also supplying fleece half zip pullovers. We all like this so much it may become the normal uniform and not just for Fridays!
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.