Keeping up appearances

12th of September 2018 Article by Lotte Printz
Keeping up appearances

ECJ’s Lotte Printz takes a look at workwear in Denmark where unusually high temperatures over the summer ignited a heated debate on dress codes.

Sandals and shorts signal “lack of authority”. Or at least that’s what leading public transport companies in Denmark think and the reason why their drivers are not allowed to wear them for work. Not even when temperatures are around 30 degrees Celsius as they’ve been for a great part of this summer, and when experts warned that concentration drops when it’s so warm. Other lines of business – such as the police – are not allowed to be dressed for summer for safety reasons, and in the health sector a certain dress code or uniforms are down to hygiene.

FOA, the Danish Trade Union for care workers and cleaners, among others, asked more than 3,200 of their members in a summer survey and three out of four replied they wear a uniform or certain clothes when working. Sixty-nine per cent of those said it was not suitable for use on a hot summer’s day.

Cleaner Annie Madsen at Business Academy Aarhus is not one of them. She was on holiday for four weeks when temperatures were at their highest. But before then it was also hot, yet bearable – in her “uniform”.

“Of course, we cannot clean wearing bikinis,” she laughs. “But as long as the clothes we wear are made of cotton that you can breathe in and that absorbs sweat, it isn’t too hot.”

As cleaning can be rough on clothes and shoes, Annie Madsen is pleased that she doesn’t have to wear her own clothes as they do in some cleaning companies and as she was also used to earlier on in this employment – although reimbursed for it. However, what she appreciates most is that they have an individual choice on what to wear. For the past six years, the cleaners at Business Academy Aarhus have been asked twice a year to go shopping for workwear.

“When moving around as much as we do, it is extremely important that we feel comfortable in what we wear. I used to wear a cleaning smock, but as I’m a rather big woman, it kept sliding up. Now I wear a t-shirt underneath a cleaning apron, and trousers. I bought sandals for summer, and for winter we have cardigans and jackets. And those who wear hijabs can order that too,” Annie Madsen explains.

“Originally, we were supposed to wear the same kind of clothing, but we couldn’t agree. As a stout woman, I wouldn’t like to wear stripes for instance. So it’s really nice that we can now choose. If your workwear suits you and you feel comfortable in it, we do a better job,” she says.

Besides the logo, all tops and jackets have ‘facility’ printed on the back so cleaners are easily recognisable. That’s an important feature too, adds Bente Jensen, head of cleaning at Business Academy Aarhus.

“It gives us an official role. It shows we are employed by the Business Academy, and staff and students all know who we are if they need to get in touch with us,” she says and there’s no doubt in her mind that both the dress code policy, the respect it signals and management’s general attitude towards her and her cleaners give positive results. None of her cleaners have worked at Business Academy Aarhus for less than four years.

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