Office style has changed significantly in recent years. Whereas in the past, the tried-and-tested suit and tie combination was the only way to dress for work, companies have shifted towards more of a business casual dress code in recent years. But does the way we dress impact our behaviour at work – and are we more productive if we dress a certain way? We’ve taken a look at the changing attitudes towards workplace attire to see if it’s really possible to dress for success…
Casual vs traditional
Business casual has become the most popular style of dress in recent years, with The Independent finding that just 1 in 10 people now wear a suit to work. Business casual for a man could be a mens white shirt with no tie, smart black trousers and loafer style shoes. For women it could be a smart blouse with cropped, tailored trousers and flat shoes.
The popularity of business casual could possibly be linked to the prevalence of younger workers. 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.
Studies have shown that 1 in 10 young people have sought out other employment as a result of strict office dress codes. 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.
But should companies consider introducing a more relaxed dress code to keep their employees satisfied? Quite possibly. Employers are aware of how high staff turnover can have great cost and productivity implications. Costs are incurred 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.
The influx of creative industries could also be tied to the changing dress codes. 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 link between clothing and behaviour
The way we dress and the way we behave at work appear to be directly linked. In one study, subjects were presented with a white coat and told different things. 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 can make people think more broadly.
Of course, formal clothing doesn’t always give you more confidence. Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg is known for his more casual style of clothing. He says that dressing in this way gives him one less decision to make and allows him to focus on more important workplace decisions. A study by Stormline concluded that most UK workers would feel more productive and make an
Companies should perhaps consider asking their employees what they would like to wear. Studies have shown that UK workers are at their most productive when they are given this option – they also make more effort appearance wise. 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.
Should companies have dress codes?
Of course, how you dress at work depends entirely on your role in the company. 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.
Assessing workplace attire on the basis of roles and client interaction could be a good place for companies to start. 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.
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