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Dressing For Work: Formal Versus Casual & Impact On Productivity

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The way we dress in our offices has completely changed over the years – you can’t deny it. 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?

Changing To Business Casual

With a new generation now going into work, it’s thought that the shift has been influenced by them. 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.

Simply put, business casual is dressing smart but not too professional. For a man, this might be a fitted shirt without a tie, navy trousers and loafers. For women, it could be a smart blouse with cropped, tailored trousers and flat shoes.

Recent Study On Work Attire

According to one study, more than one in ten workers aged 18-24 have thought about leaving their role because of their company having harsh dress code requirements. 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.

In a bid to keep staff in the company; should businesses remove the notorious dress code? 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.

The Role Of The Creative Industry

Creative companies have also played a huge part in this. 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 Impact Of How You Dress For Work

It’s widely known that the way you dress can influence how you work. 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 (such as a tuxedo) can make people think more broadly.

Entrepreneur Steven Bartlett wears the same black outfit every day – and his company is making millions. He says that dressing in this way gives him one less decision to make and allows him to focus on more important workplace decisions.

UK workers feel as though they would be more productive at work if there wasn’t a dress code. 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.

A Way Forward for Businesses

From the research above; Charles Tyrwhitt – retailer of men’s blue suits – believe that the decision comes down to the individual.

There’s a chance that this decision could be influenced by that person’s role within a 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.

However, it may be beneficial for organisations to ask their employees what they would prefer. 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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