Formal vs. Casual: Which is Best for Office Productivity?

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

In recent years, there’s been a shift in the office dress code. 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. But is it affecting productivity?

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What is business casual dress?

Business casual is generally defined as smart but not overly formal. For a man, this might be a fitted shirts without a tie, navy trousers and loafers. For women it could be a smart blouse with cropped, tailored trousers and flat shoes. But this can vary from business to business, with each having their own idea of what business casual means.

The switch to business casual

It’s possible the influence of younger workers in the office has led to a shift towards business casual. It seems this age group is more protective over identity and style of dress and are opposed to being told what to wear.

In fact, more than one in ten people aged 18-24 said that they had considered quitting their job due to a strict dress code. Older employees, however, don’t 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.

Therefore, is it worth removing the dress code to retain these staff? Quite possibly.

The relationship between dress code and retention

Employers are aware of how high staff turnover can have great cost and productivity implications. Costs incur during the recruitment process and time is spent interviewing and selecting candidates.

Productivity also takes a hit, as current employees often have 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.

However, having a dress code may deter candidates— 61% of people looking for a new job in 2017 said they have a negative perception of any company that enforces a dress code.

Another reason for the switch to business casual is a growth in creative companies. In fact, between 2010 and 2016, the creative industries sub sectors (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

Research has shown that what you wear can have an impact on how you behave at 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 who were told they were wearing a painter’s coat.

On the other hand, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, wears the same casual clothes every day and runs a company worth billions of dollars. He says that dressing this way gives him one less decision to make and allows him to focus on more important workplace decisions.

When it comes to productivity, a study by Stormline identified that the majority workers would feel more productive and put more effort into their appearance if there wasn’t a strict dress code. Moreover, 78% of respondents said 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.

What’s best for the business?

Based on the research that we’ve looked at, it’s clear to see that how an employee dresses entirely depends on the employee, whether there’s a dress code or not. 

It may also depend on their role. 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.

It could be good for companies to ask employees how they feel about uniforms and when they feel most productive to help determine whether a uniform is best for the business or not. As we’ve seen, uniforms can affect behavior at work and it’s down to the individuals as to whether they work best following, or not adhering to, a dress code.

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24/09/2019 Steve Pearson
Work life started half a century ago for me and I am still working. I started out in engineering, moved to an office job, qualified as a software developer and have specialised in engineering CMMS applications. Early days in the office were tie based smart dress. These days, a tie is few and far between, and good riddance too. Dangerous in an engineering environment (they get tangled in things), they are also superfluous - a piece of rag tied about your neck does not improve your skills. I no longer even possess a tie and would refuse to wear one. They started out as a derivative of the cravat, originally worn in Eastern Europe and designed to catch the scraps of food falling on to and ruining an expensive silk shirt, which were the order of the day in the Victorian era. Well, thanks, but growing up I was taught to eat without throwing food down myself (most of the time :)) and a tie does not make an individual smarter in any sense of the term.

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