Walmart, the world's largest firm by revenue, employs one out of every ten retail workers in the United States, as well as one out of every 100 private-sector workers. That's a lot of people—and khaki.
Until recently, all 1.5 million Walmart retail employees in the United States had to wear a blue or white collared shirt, black or khaki slacks, and closed-toed shoes. (After employee pushback in 2015, Walmart relaxed the dress code, allowing all employees to wear khaki-colored denim, T-shirts for those working in the garden department, and jeans for those doing manual labor at the back of the store.)
The drab clothing code became marginally more hip on April 14. Employees in some of Walmart's 4,700 locations can now wear shirts of any solid color and blue jeans or "jeggings," according to an updated employee manual seen by Bloomberg News (no matter where they work in the store). According to Bloomberg, Walmart is putting the new dress guidelines to the test in a small number of US locations in the goal of attracting and retaining employees in a tight labor market.
While the nation's largest private employer has long been chastised for its labor policies, Doug McMillon has made employee satisfaction and retention a key priority since becoming CEO in 2014. Walmart promised to pay raises to more than 1 million employees in 2015. Despite outcry from Wall Street, Walmart pushed forward with its compensation plan, raising the base hourly rate to $11 in February and awarding bonuses of up to $1,000 to a substantial number of US employees.
The importance of wardrobe choice on employee morale should not be disregarded, as little as Walmart's dress-code revisions may appear. Apart from pure aesthetics (even suburban dads shouldn't wear khakis), rigid professional dress standards are inherently paternalistic and often costly.
When Mary Barra was directing HR at General Motors, she noticed a link between dress standards and employees' sense of empowerment, so she simplified the company's dress code to just two words: "Dress correctly." Get information by visiting onewalmart.com.
Walmart is unlikely to go that far. While the retailer is relaxing some rules, the updated manual also adds some new ones—for example, facial tattoos are now prohibited for any employee hired after April 14—and leather, prints, distressed materials, patches, white stitching, bedazzled clothing, yoga pants, sandals, and Crocs are all still prohibited.