Traditional or business casual: Does what you wear to work impact your productivity?

Traditional or business casual: Does what you wear to work impact your productivity?

It’s fair to say that office style has undergone a significant transformation in recent years. Just a few years ago, office workers were expected to dress in the traditional suit and tie combination. Now, however, studies show that over 40% of workers consider a suit ‘out of place’ in the office. Modern companies have adopted more of a business casual dress code, with one-fifth of workers expressing that this style allows for increased comfort and freedom of expression. But does what you wear for work have any impact on your productivity and behaviour?

In some cases, yes it does. If you are working in an environment where a particular type of workwear is required, like in a warehouse or at a construction site, the reason for that might be employee safety. In those situations, if you do not wear hi vis workwear clothes or a similar uniform provided by your company, your safety might be at a risk. However, for those working in corporate offices, dress codes or uniforms don’t hold the same value as they would for those working at a high-risk work site.

Business casual vs traditional

In recent years, business casual has taken over from traditional office wear as the most popular style for work. 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. It’s easy to adopt the business casual look – for a man, think slim fitting shirts with no tie, smart navy trousers and loafer style shoes. For women it could be a smart blouse with cropped, tailored trousers and flat shoes.

According to one study, one in ten millennials have thought about leaving their job due to the office dress code. 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 employee satisfaction be taken into consideration when it comes to deciding on what workers should wear? 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 prevalence of creative businesses could also have something to do with the changing attitudes towards what we wear at work. 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’.

Does what we wear affect how we behave at work?

Studies have indicated that our clothing choices and behaviour are closely related. 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.

Formal clothing isn’t for everyone, however. 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 extra effort to dress well if the strict rules on dress code were relaxed.

Business owners could also benefit from asking workers what they would feel most comfortable in. 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 dress codes exist?

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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