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Good old Facebook can always be relied upon to yield the cheesiest caption and slogan. This week, one did resonate, shared by a colleague. It was a photograph of a notice board, presumably in a residential home. The board read “ Our residents do not live in your workplace; we work in their home.” This was particularly interesting, as I have had a couple of random conversations with other colleagues this week about the conduct of staff, in relation to dress at work.
One home was discussing the possibility of implementing a dress code. This was due to the manager having had to counsel a couple of new carers who had turned up in revealing or scruffy attire. Her argument with one was around the concept of ‘homeliness’ and the carer opined that she was wearing exactly the sort of clothing she would normally wear at home. If the workplace was supposed to be a homely environment, then surely her knee-less, skin-tight denims were appropriate.
The other was a member of the night team, who had arrived on duty, taken handover and then proceeded to put on a robe and slippers. The rationale for this was that it was a ‘normal’ way to dress in the evening and therefore acceptable. The manager was flummoxed at the sight of the worker in slightly undersized towelling but managed to impart that this was not in any way a suitable outfit to wear at work.
This demonstrates the wonderful variety of experience and attitude that exists in the care provider community but does leave a question over whose idea of acceptable we should follow. I know that these days the only nod to a workplace dress code is to recommend staff wear comfortable garments and low-heeled closed-toe shoes, or to remove dangling earrings and neck chains. For infection control purposes, we have sometimes insisted on elbow length sleeves and no scarves or ties flapping about, or tying back long hair.
A new recruit once approached me looking rather furtive, and asked if her tattoos would be a factor in her success in probation. I replied that as I had not thus far been aware of them, provided she kept her clothes on, I doubted they would impede her progress. In fact, I would say that at least 50% of the care teams I manage have had ‘ink’ done, some more tasteful than others. The prevalence of piercings is also high. It rarely has a negative bearing on their ability or quality of work.
Creating barriers to acceptance
An argument once rumbled about the way staff dress can draw negative attention to service users in the community. This was after an overheard comment at the bus stop, where the care worker supporting an elderly woman with learning disabilities was described as a ‘smelly hippy’. The implication was that someone who did not appear sufficiently professional was accompanying the unfortunate service user.
This is not an issue with a ready answer; more one to debate and reflect on. I would baulk at the prospect of returning to uniforms and Armani suits are not exactly practical for the majority of care tasks, but perhaps a little decorum and attention to image is needed. The trick is how and when to enforce rules on dress and how to ensure that you are not discriminating against a punky rebel that could be the next highly gifted care professional.
Ginny Tyler – QCS Expert Learning Disabilities Contributor