What to Consider when Implementing a Casual Dress Code
In the 50’s uniforms or professional dress codes were a part of most businesses as well as everyday life. Men wore ties, women wore dresses, and it was unheard of to go out in public in less than business attire. Then the freedom revolution of the 60’s came about, and casual more comfortable clothing began to become a regular part of society. In the late 80’s businesses started to implement casual Friday’s as a means of rewarding hard working employees and slowly the ideas of dress codes started to be modified and eventually professional dress became non-existent in a lot of business environments. The impact of this change can be seen throughout the business world as a whole no matter the industry.
Perception is a large part of a company’s image. No matter how hard we try not to judge a book by its cover, it is human nature to have a first impression based on looks; when clientele see an overly casual or less than professional staff appearance their immediate first impression is less than stellar, whether subconscious or not. A business’ first impression is the client’s first bit of data that helps them decide whether or not to do business with a company. If customers see a business’ image as unkempt or too casual they may believe that to be a direct reflection on the service they will receive there and decide to go someplace else, thusly cutting into the company’s sales and bottom line.
Additionally having employees that are dressed as if they were customers, especially in any kind of retail environment can be confusing to customers when looking for a staff member to assist them. This can be avoided by creating a uniform dress code, whether it is a simply logoed t-shirt or requiring staff to wear all black, etc. It does not have to be expensive or elaborate, just something that works for your industry or business.
A study at the University of Hertfordshire found that wearing jeans and t-shirts as work attire makes it difficult for associates to subconsciously differentiate between having a relaxed weekend mindset and a professional work day mindset. Although this study indicates that how we dress directly affects our ability to remain alert, the results were based on how each of the test subjects felt they were responding, and not physical scientific data. This means that there is the possibility of age, gender, mood, and other internal catalysts affecting the tests results.
For companies who choose to have a casual atmosphere there are some strategies towards business casual attire that can help associates in their attempt to differentiate mentally between work place attitudes and at home casual attitudes:
· Promote an upscale casual atmosphere, such as jeans are fine as long as paired with a dress shirt or blouse.
· Jeans and t-shirts are acceptable, however athletic shoes paired with them would be inappropriate.
· Encourage associates to accessorize in order to give casual dress a dressier appearance.
· Put together a manual with visual examples of what the company considers business casual and too casual and include it in the employee handbook.
By providing employees with this guidance as to what the company views as business casual, employees can have a distinction between work and home, as well as focus more on their jobs rather than on what to wear to work.
Associates can create their own routines to help the transition from work mode to home or vice versa such as simply changing clothes when they get home, or enjoying a good cup of coffee in a specific place before getting dressed for work. Having these routines is one way that associates can help their minds adjust to the different expectations of the day without getting completely dressed up.
Although there are some studies that show a business’ adopting a casual dress policy can have positive work place effects:
· Cost Savings to both Employee and Employer when obtaining work attire
- Better Communications between Managers and Staff
The debate over how casual dress affects work performance tends to be an ongoing battle. There are many studies that show casual dress have a negative effect on productivity as well as introduce other negative issues, like:
- Increased Tardiness and Absenteeism
- Increased Litigation
- Decreased Company Loyalty
With the bulk of productivity and casual dress study outcomes being derived from perception and employee feelings, it is difficult to get a true read on how it affects productivity when staff members are provided with a casual dress code. Because of this Organizational Behavior Management Network conducted their own study that attempted to provide more of a scientific method of determining the effects of casual dress on productivity.
This study took an industry that entailed repetitive processes such as data entry and transcription and measured the number of lines typed while alternating between casual wear and dress attire days. The results of this investigation showed that although there was a slight increase in productivity, the number was negligible indicating that what the associate wore really had no impact on their productivity. Since the study was only run on four individuals and with limited industrial variables it cannot be concluded that this would be the case for all companies or industries.
While researchers continue to attempt to come up with a definitive answer to the question of work place attire’s effect on professional performance and productivity, it is obvious that there are both benefits and drawbacks to companies adopting a casual work dress environment. So for companies considering implementing a casual dress code, or casual dress day somethings that should be figured in are:
- Company’s Industry – Certain industries tend to be more accommodative to casual dress or non-uniform dress codes than others, meaning office work, telemarketing, etc. would be a better fit for the casual dress code than restaurants, hospitals, legal offices, manufacturing plants, etc.
- Safety Issues – Take into account any hazards of the job when creating a dress code. Certain professions have inherent hazards associated with the job which would make casual dress an ingredient for possible worker’s compensation claims.
- Consider All Job Descriptions – Dress code policies need to be consistent in order to avoid discrimination claims and internal grudges between departments. If there are some departments that a casual dress code would not be suitable for, try to find an alternative method of accommodating them when establishing casual dress code policies for the departments that it would be applicable. Make sure that any accommodations are of equal value so as not to cause inter-department hostilities.
- Clear and Understandable Dress Code Policy – Casual dress policies can easily become convoluted and confusing to staff when left to their own perception of what casual dress entails. By documenting and elaborating on what the company perception of casual dress is, employees are not left to wonder and flounder through the casual dress process. Additionally it puts all employees on the same page eliminating internal disputes or trashy apparel.
Everyone enjoys dawning comfortable clothing, and would love to be able to wear what they find comfortable on a daily basis, but when it comes to the work environment a casual attitude about attire may need to be thought through on a deeper level and strategically planed out to make sure that the new policy does not have negative effects on the business as a whole.