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In early education, it's getting harder than ever to recruit good team members, and get them to stick around.
Could ditching the branded polo and khaki trouser uniforms be the solution?
Well, by itself, no. These staffing problems are way bigger than a dress code. But as we'll discuss, revisiting your dress code and uniform policies might be a step in the right direction toward easing the pressure of this recruitment crisis.
Imogen Edmunds, CEO of the early education HR consultancy Redwing Solutions, says the current challenges with recruiting and retaining educators ought to make us reflect on the policies that affect our teams.
"Now's the time when we really have to ask ourselves which policies are working for us, and the dress code is a classic example of that," she says. "Every time you say 'I don't want that in my setting, you're shrinking your potential labor pool. Can we really afford to do that?"
At the end of the day, how you dress should be about the children’s experience. What makes you feel best-equipped and most confident to play and explore with children, to give them the most enriching early years experience you can? And how can you strike that balance, while giving your team plenty of room express themselves at work?
That’s what we’re here to talk about.
In this piece, we’ll explore some of the most common considerations that shape dress code and uniform policies in the early education. We’ve sourced these from research and interviews with early education HR experts, and also from discussions with dozens of practitioners on social media.
We’re not here to give you a concrete “do exactly this” answer, so much as offer some ideas that might help inform how you approach a dress code in your own setting.
Ready? Let’s get into it.
Deciding how everyone should dress for work is about balancing some practical considerations with your team’s personal comfort. Both of these factors are important, because they’re key parts of a bigger goal: Giving the best possible care to children.
For a dress code to feel meaningful and useful, it’s got to strike a balance between the following factors.
Ultimately, your policy needs to tie back into that fundamental question: How does this help enrich and improve children’s everyday experiences with you? As we move ahead, that’s a helpful question to evaluate what your own policy is all about.
This isn't about a branding exercise, or some abstract idea of professionalism. Your policy should be there to help your team feel comfortable and confident, so they're in the best mindset to play and learn with children.
Let’s take a second to clarify the difference between uniforms and dress codes. The two are close cousins, but there are a couple important distinctions that shape what they mean for the educators on your team.
Here’s how we’ll define the two terms:
In the wider discussion of how we dress in early education, specific uniform policies are often the biggest point of friction. Here are a few of the biggest reasons why they aren’t a big hit:
This isn’t to say that uniforms are always wrong. But there are a lot of ways that a dress code can meet those same practical needs, while leaving a lot more room for your team to feel expressive and comfortable in their own clothes.
So when we’re figuring out how to dress for work, how do we get everybody’s needs met? If you’re looking to implement some sort of dress code at your own Early Years setting, there are plenty of ways to make room for comfort and self-expression, while also making sure everyone is wearing what they need for the job.
Here are a few options you might want to consider:
At the end of the day, it’s tough to make a one-size-fits all recommendation for something like dress codes. Perhaps everybody on your team loves the idea of an embroidered staff T-shirt, or maybe everyone would rather be left to make those clothing choices on their own. Either way, you won’t know until you ask your team.
So if you’re looking to have a dress code at your setting, or just revisiting what you’ve got, it’s probably best to invite everyone to weigh in on it. That way, you can get the best understanding of everybody’s needs on each side of the balance, and work together to find a policy that fits you best.
Again, a dress code needs to speak to the bottom line: Children’s everyday experience. The best policy is the one that helps your staff feel comfortable and confident about the work they do, and the care they give to the children in your care.
Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.