Attitudes to dress codes have changed massively in recent years, with modern office spaces relaxing the rules slightly. At one time, a nine-to-five job was synonymous with a three-piece suit and briefcase. But, now, many companies are happy to let their employees dress in business casual attire or what they feel comfortable in. Is it affecting productivity, though?
What’s best for the business?
Conclusions from the findings we’ve compiled all suggest that the value of having a strict dress code depends largely on the employee in question, and the nature of individual workplaces.
Of course, an employee’s role could have an impact on this too. First impressions still, and most likely will, always count. If employees are in a client-facing role, it’s important to look professional and approachable — they are effectively representing the business and should be making it look good.
If businesses are invested in accommodating the preferences of their employees then simply gaging a consensus could prove valuable when it comes to putting a dress code in place. This could be the best indicator of whether a uniform is best for the business or not. As we’ve seen, uniforms can affect behaviour at work and it is down to the individuals as to whether they work best following, or not adhering to, a dress code.
The switch to business casual
As the median age range of many offices lessens in line with a new generation of employees entering work, the shift in dress codes has been largely associated with this influx of younger recruits. It seems as though this age group is more protective over identity and style of dress and are opposed to being told what to wear.
Loosely, the definition of business casual would be striking a balance between looking corporate but not overly professional. For a man, this might be a men’s shirt without a tie, navy trousers and loafers. For women, it could be a smart blouse with cropped, tailored trousers and flat shoes.
Findings have shown that one in ten people aged 18-24 said that a strict dress code would prompt them to consider quitting their job. Older employees, however, do not share the same strong views. Only 7% of those aged 55 and over said that they would think about leaving their employment because of the dress code. Compare this to 17% of 18-24s and it’s clear to see a divide. It might depend on which sector you operate in as to how your staff feel about uniform. Those working in the energy sector (32%), science and pharma sector (31%) and IT sector (29%) are most likely to leave their role due to dress code requirements, one study discovered.
Is the only clear solution to this dilemma to relax all corporate dress codes though, or will this only create new issues? Quite possibly. Employers are aware of how high staff turnover can have great cost and productivity implications. Costs incur during the recruitment process as the position is advertised and time is spent by employers interviewing and selecting candidates. Having a dress code may deter candidates too — 61% of people looking for a new job in 2017 said that they’d have a negative perception of any company that enforced a dress code. Productivity also takes a hit, as often a current employee has to spend time training the new starter or letting them shadow their day-to-day activities — this can prevent existing workers from working to their maximum capacity. Even conditions such as the office temperature can warrant a shift in how employees dress, and when the temperatures plummet and men’s knitwear becomes an office essential.
Many emerging companies in the past decade have categorised themselves as being ‘creative workspaces’, and this has contributed to the rise in popularity of casual attire. In fact, between 2010 and 2016, the creative industries sub-sectors (i.e advertising, film and TV) grew their economic contribution by 44.8%. Dress code is often less strict in these companies, as employees are encouraged to express their ‘creative flair’.
The effects of how you dress
Studies have highlighted a link between what an employee wears to work and how they behave, which might support the preservation of dress codes.
A particular study involved participants being given a white coat, and they were told a range of different things associated with the coat. The participants that were told it was a doctor’s coat, felt more confident in accomplishing tasks compared to those that were told they were wearing a painter’s coat. Other research shows that wearing more formal clothing (such as a Tuxedos) can make people think more broadly.
Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, seems like the epitome of business casual, as he wears the same combination of understated clothes every day and is at the helm of a multi-billion-pound company. He says that dressing in this way gives him one less decision to make and allows him to focus on more important workplace decisions.
The majority of UK workers admitted that they would feel more productive and put more effort in daily if there wasn’t a strict dress code enforced, which suggests some reverse psychology is at work —according to a study by Stormline. Moreover, 78% of respondents to one survey said that they would still make an effort to dress well and wouldn’t blur the line between ‘work clothes’ and ‘non-work clothes’ if there weren’t any rules on what to wear.