When you get dressed for work in the morning, do you put on a suit or a t-shirt? There’s a huge variety in company dress codes, with some organizations on one end of the spectrum requiring employees wear a suit and tie every day, while other companies opt for jeans, shorts, and t-shirts.
How important is dress code to how we work? In a word, very.
Dress code affects a lot of what we do at work and how we do it. Dress code alone is only a small aspect of the workplace, but it represents the company culture and how management views its employees. What we wear has a huge affect on how we feel and act. Forcing employees to come to work in a suit every day creates a conservative and stuffy environment that doesn’t breed change. A stodgy dress code isn’t conducive to collaboration, creativity, or trust–if a company is controlling so strictly what its employees wear, how will those employees ever feel comfortable trying a new idea, making a suggestion, or being creative and forward-thinking?
On the flip side, a more casual dress code and work environment generally helps employees feel more comfortable and makes it easier to communicate and collaborate. After all, when given the choice, the vast majority of people would rather wear more casual clothes and be comfortable. Many start-ups and tech companies lean to the more casual side of dress code, and it has a huge impact on their corporate culture, employee morale, and retention. At some of the most successful tech companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google, employees at all levels regularly wear jeans, t-shirts, and sandals. Their line of thinking is that if employees are comfortable in what they are wearing, they can do their best work and feel more excited and included to come to work.
The future of work is all about empowering employees to work however is best for them, and for most employees, that doesn’t involve wearing a suit. In fact, the idea of a relaxed dress code is growing quickly, spreading past start-ups and into other industries. In June, JP Morgan Chase announced a company-wide dress code change from business to business casual, meaning employees are now free to wear dress shirt without ties, nice jeans, and more casual slacks. This is especially noteworthy because investment banking has long been thought of as a particularly stuffy industry full of suits and boardrooms. With JP Morgan Chase leading the way, perhaps other companies will follow suit and move away from strict dress standards, especially after seeing the boost in employee satisfaction and morale with a simple change.
Of course there are situations where employees should be in more professional attire–for a big meeting or when interacting with clients, for example. However, if an employee isn’t meeting with customers or executives, they really don’t need to be dressed to the nines. As long as employees are decent and comfortable, that should be enough for most managers.
Dress code is a simply company policy that has a huge impact on the company. Changing the dress code to give employees more freedom is one of the easiest things an organization can do to show that it values its employees and wants them to be comfortable. As the dress code lightens up, you’ll likely see the atmosphere in the office start to lighten, as well.
What’s the dress code in your office?
My new book, The Employee Experience Advantage (Wiley, March 2017) analyzes over 250 global organizations to understand how to create a place where people genuinely want to show up to work. Subscribe to the newsletter here