One of my students once went to an interview. He was formally dressed but when he got there, he was astounded to find everyone in casual gear! He did not get the job and I am not sure whether his attire had anything to do with it. Of course, he could have avoided all that discomfort and unease by simply phoning the company beforehand to find out what the dress code was.
Of course, there are health and safety reasons for some dress code rules. For example, when operating machinery or doing nursing, jewellery is not recommended! Cooks are asked to tie their hair back or cover it for obvious hygienic reasons. There are also cases where the dress code helps to reinforce the company’s brand. I cannot imagine a flight attendant in a T- shirt, shorts/jorts and flip flops! Dealing with the public may also demand certain rules. Apart from these issues, it seems to me that dress code is serving no useful purpose at all and is unnecessarily complicated. Here are 5 reasons why we should forget this in the workplace.
1. Clothes can make employees feel uncomfortable
Certain rules about always wearing a tie for men or women have to wear business suits can make employees feel uncomfortable, especially when the weather gets warm. There are other reasons why these outdated rules are impractical. People feel better and they want to produce their best when they are wearing what suits their body shape, mood and duties. Knowing they can choose what suits them best allows them to concentrate on the task. Google interviewers do not take dress code into account as their stated policy is that they care more about what the candidate says than what they are wearing!
2. Dress codes can impede transparency and trust
Having to wear formal clothes all day and every day can and does produce a rather stuffy and conservative atmosphere. It does nothing to help employee empowerment. Staff start to judge people on how they look. That judgment can affect how people assess their colleagues in job performance and can also create a rather subtle discrimination. When people are more relaxed and dress as they wish, there is a much better chance of collaboration, dialogue and team working. Colleagues are appreciated for the quality of the work they produce and not how they look. It is not a fashion show!
“No matter what sort of uniform it is […] to put on such livery is to give up one’s right to act as an individual” – Alison Lurie
Apple set the tone when Steve Jobs walked around his office barefoot. It has a very casual corporate culture which is all about fostering innovation and making great things happen. Dress code has no impact whatsoever.
3. Dress codes need to be reviewed
There is still an enormous amount of prejudice about tattoos and piercings, especially in the service industries. The consequences were that employees had to cover arm tattoos as they slaved over a steamy stove. Starbucks have recently relaxed their rules and servers are now allowed to display their personal body decorations, within certain limits. One enormous benefit is that they feel more empowerment about self-expression. This will have a knock on effect in being able to connect better with the customers and provide them with better service.
4. Rigid dress codes may lead to racial discrimination
Imagine when a company insists that all the male members of its staff are clean-shaven. This often creates problems for African-American men who suffer from a skin condition called pseudofolliculitis barbae which is often aggravated by shaving. Having a no-beard policy here is creating racial discrimination and should be relaxed. It can also reduce sick leave and make employees more motivated when they feel at ease with their bodies.
Another negative consequence of the no-beard policy for men is evident in the Senate office on Capitol Hill. Sideburns were not allowed to be longer than the earlobe and there was no point in even contemplating growing a well trimmed beard as they would be sent to the men’s room to have a shave! Relaxing the dress code means that appearance will take second place to what the employee actually produces and that is how it should be.
5. Dress codes are an anachronism
Dress codes are a continuation of the school uniform idea where students are actively discouraged from standing out as individuals in the way they dress. Girls are especially vulnerable as society demands conformity in the workplace while society praises Beyonce for going against the rules to show that she is empowered. If they do not toe the line, they will be shamed. Dress codes should be as fair as possible for both sexes so that women do not feel that they are being over-scrutinized.
“Pop culture tells [girls], ‘Be cute and pretty and sexy, but if you’re too cute, pretty and sexy, you’re a slut.” – Niv Myasato
Employers sometimes have a dress code which discriminates against employees who feel compelled to dress according to their religious or cultural traditions. For example, a company which insists that all women must wear skirts or dresses might well upset Muslim women who feel more at ease when wearing trousers. Just another consequence of having a dress code which serves no useful purpose at all.
The bottom line must always be that what a member of staff wears has no effect on their work performance and achievements. Is the dress code going to have any impact on innovation, creativity and productivity? I doubt it!
Featured photo credit: Kitting up for a client visit/ Lars Ploughmann via flickr.com