Walmart Testing New, Less Restrictive Dress Code

Walmart Testing New, Less Restrictive Dress Code

Walmart is piloting a new dress code in some of its US stores that will give employees more options for what they can wear to work, Bloomberg’s Matthew Boyle reported on Thursday:

Employees … will now be allowed to wear shirts of any solid color, rather than just blue or white, according to an employee manual obtained by Bloomberg News. Blue jeans are also permitted — as long as they’re solid blue — whereas previously only khaki-colored or black denim pants were allowed. Visible facial tattoos are forbidden for those hired after April 14, the manual said. …

Some Walmart workers embraced the dress code changes, with one saying on an employee message board: “I would love this! I hope it comes to my store.” Others were skeptical that it would get past the testing phase, which began in fewer than two dozen stores this month.

Walmart last adjusted its dress code in 2015, when it gave its US employees permission to wear black or khaki-colored denim pants and let workers with more physically-intensive jobs wear t-shirts to work instead of collared shirts. That change came after a new dress code the company adopted the previous year—requiring white or navy collared shirts, khaki or black pants, close-toed shoes, and a new design of the big-box store’s branded blue uniform vest—was poorly received by employees, Hayley Peterson adds at Business Insider.

The updated dress code, like other HR moves Walmart has made in the past year, is likely intended to make it a more attractive workplace in the increasingly tight US labor market, where employers are finding themselves forced to compete for talent even in low-skill, high-turnover roles. The company has been steadily raising wages and adding new benefits for store employees since 2016, at the same time as it has been reducing its numbers of big-box stores in response to increased competition from online retail. It raised entry-level wages and expanded its parental leave policy earlier this year. CEO Doug McMillon has attributed Walmart’s strong performance in the face of these challenges to its increased investment in its staff.

Walmart is the world’s largest private-sector employer, so its policies can have an outsized impact on the labor market and other companies, particularly but not exclusively in the retail sector. Walmart’s recent series of wage hikes, for example, may have done more to push up the real minimum wage in the US than any state legislative initiative. Being such a huge company, its HR decisions have a tendency to set a benchmark that other low-wage employers feel compelled to follow.

Dress codes or uniforms are much more idiosyncratic to brands than wages, so it’s hard to say whether Walmart’s experiment with a more relaxed set of rules will have the same ripple effects. If Walmart doesn’t end up setting a trend here, it is following one: 44 percent of HR professionals who responded to SHRM’s 2017 employee benefits survey said their companies allowed employees to dress casually every day, up from 34 percent in 2013. Starbucks, another massive employer of hourly workers in the US, also updated its dress code last year to allow for “more variety, flexibility and personalization” as part of a series of employee-friendly policy changes.