There has been an ongoing struggle ever since Alsco first introduced uniform rentals back in the 1800s: accommodating worker needs without blowing the uniform budget. So many companies believe they cannot be accommodating to their workers without spending a ton of money on customized uniforms made specifically for them. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.
Workwear uniforms can be exceptionally accommodating when service providers and customers work together to figure out what employees need most. Just a few simple changes here and there can make a world of difference. If you need evidence, consider a move recently made by the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to accommodate female air personnel.
New Shirts for Nursing Mothers
Air personnel are required by uniform regulations to wear t-shirts under their dress shirts. For female air personnel who are also nursing mothers, this requirement can be quite burdensome. Feeding baby or pumping requires unbuttoning and untucking the dress shirt, then untucking and pulling up the t-shirt. Mom then has to go through the effort of tucking everything back in before returning to duty.
Air Force top brass decided they could make life easier for nursing mothers with a simple change to their t-shirts. As such, they recently introduced nursing undershirts with a unique construction.
When worn underneath a dress shirt, the nursing undershirt doesn’t look any different. But opening the dress shirt reveals a flap of fabric that can be easily lifted without untucking the entire undershirt. The dress shirt doesn’t even have to be untucked to lift the flap. Underneath the flap is a crossing fabric that is pulled to one side to give mother and baby access.
This wonderful invention makes it a lot easier for breast-feeding air personnel to nurse their babies or pump without having to remove their coats or untuck their dress shirts. That makes putting everything back together again a lot easier as well. The only downside at this time is that the undershirts will only be produced in the sand color, so their use is limited to daily utility uniforms.
A Small Thing Makes a Big Difference
Making the decision to accommodate breast-feeding air personnel was a good move by the USAF. It may seem like such a small thing on the surface, but the accommodation is very important to those personnel who choose to wear the undershirts. They make breast-feeding and pumping easier, thereby encouraging more mothers to do so – mothers who may have otherwise avoided breast-feeding because it is too much trouble to do while in uniform.
So, what can civilian employers learn from the USAF example? Alsco says the most important lesson is to step back and seriously consider what employees need in their workwear to make them as efficient, comfortable, and safe as possible. A good illustration is found in the availability of pockets to restaurant servers.
A server lives and dies by the number of pockets available to him or her. Servers need pockets for their pens, ordering slips, towels, straws, extra napkins, and on and on. Insufficient pockets force servers to cram too much into the few pockets they do have. They have to leave behind what they can’t fit into limited pocket space. That makes them less efficient.
Management would do well to put themselves in the shoes of their employees when ordering new uniforms. Experience what a day on the job is like for them. Better yet, do their job for a couple of hours. There is no better way to figure out how to accommodate workers with better uniforms than actually doing what they do every day.