Your guide to shopping for the perfect uniform for your business | Input, Testing, and Decision-Making
Selecting a uniform for your brand can feel like a complicated decision. After all, even the most attractive design, if crafted with the wrong material or fit, can constrain employee body movements and limit their ability to perform the duties of their job. Or worse, can leave them feeling disempowered and on-edge, a sentiment that will rub off on your customers.
“Uncomfortable uniforms are a nagging irritant to employees,” explain researchers Kathy Nelson and John Bowen in their study on the Effect of Employee Uniforms on Employee Satisfaction. “Uncomfortable (mandatory) uniforms that severely constrain body movements are a constant reminder to the wearers of their lack of power.”
This kind of discomfort doesn’t just impact employee satisfaction; it also sends a clear message to customers about your organization and brand. Nelson and Bowen found that employee uniforms can have a direct influence on guest satisfaction. A poorly selected uniform communicates to customers “that the operation is careless and inefficient.”
At Noel Asmar Uniforms, we often hear stories from our clients about how they’re using uniforms to create belonging, ambiance and a positive guest experience. Working every day to find the right fit, color, materials,and style for a given team, we also see firsthand the transformation that a positive uniform experience brings to employees and customers alike.
And while stories about increasing employee morale and boosting guest loyalty are on the rise, we know that the road to the perfect uniform isn’t always obvious or easy to navigate.
Below, we’ll share the most important elements of selecting a uniform to boost performance, promote a positive brand, and communicate professionalism to customers.
Bring in the Experts
Although the majority of uniforms are worn by employees rather than management, the majority of decisions regarding uniforms are made by management without input from employees. Unfortunately, that also means that the most important stakeholder opinion on a critical branding decision isn’t even a part of the discussion.
Nelson and Bowen suggest that managers put more emphasis on the intended atmosphere created by uniforms than on functionality and appearance from an employee perspective. “The result of a poor selection,” they warn, “is that the uniform can actually have a negative effect on employee attitudes and, perhaps, lead to customer dissatisfaction.”
PRO TIP: Before you pull the trigger on new uniforms, or before you even begin the search, bring in the experts: your employees. Find out what they like and don’t like about your existing uniforms. What would they change? What functions do they need the new uniform to support? How do they want to be perceived by customers?
Test for Appearance and Function
“Appearance is a powerful design component that helps create an impression,” write Nelson and Bowen. Beyond employee confidence, attractive uniforms signal to customers that your staff are sociable and accomplished. “Clothing has a profound effect on degree of attractiveness. Clothing is laden with symbolism that provides information about social and occupational standing, sex-role identification, political orientation, ethnicity, and aesthetic priorities.”
PRO TIP: As you’re searching for the right uniform for your team and brand, aim to narrow the options down to the top three. Ask for employee volunteers to put your top picks to the test, and order sample garments of each for them to try out. Have your volunteers wear each of the samples for a shift, rating for design, style, fit, materials, and performance. While high rated performance and fit are essential for executing tasks, ratings on style and design give you an indication for how confident your team will feel wearing a given garment. Use the below template to collect feedback from your employee volunteers.
Employees who will be wearing the new uniform have a vested interest in selecting one that is attractive, comfortable, and functional. By engaging them in the process, you’ll eliminate the risk of investing resources in a uniform that doesn’t perform on that job.
“Simply put, uniforms must be functional to be effective,” advise Nelson and Bowen. “Moreover, employees are the best people to offer suggestions about functional design. Given the opportunity, employees will alert designers as to whether jacket pockets are large enough for guest-check pads; whether shirting fabrics are scratchy; whether the cut of the slacks restricts movement; and a host of other practical points that might easily be overlooked.”
Making the Decision
If you’re lucky, employee testing will reveal an obvious winner amongst your top uniform choices. But if not, make sure to take the feedback you receive from volunteer uniform testers seriously. Red flags about how a uniform looks, feels and functions can prevent costly mistakes in purchasing.
Begin by weeding out any garments that received “1” or “2” ratings from your testers. While this may feel like backpedaling on the decision process, knowing which uniform not to buy is a step in the right direction. And, as the research shows, if those wearing the uniform don’t like it, your guests won’t like it either.
PRO TIP: If multiple uniform options are tied in employee opinion, don’t immediately jump to your personal preference. Take time to consider the initial feedback given to you in the selection process: What efficiencies or qualities were your employees most interested in seeing in the new uniform? What qualities did they want to avoid?
Also take time to revisit what elements of you brand you want the new uniform to reinforce: What personality, culture, and values do you want your uniforms to convey to guests?
By taking these pro-tips to heart, you’ll finish the uniform selection process having engaged your employees in selecting a uniform that promotes a strong brand. Don’t forget to follow up with employee volunteers to thank them for their input, and communicate to your team about how essential employee feedback and insight was in the process.
What does your uniform say about you?
We’d love to hear your story about the best uniform you’ve ever worn. What did that uniform say about you as a professional, and what about the uniform made it your favorite? Share your thoughts below in the comment section or on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.