Recent research from staffing firm OfficeTeam reveals that almost one-third of office workers would prefer to work for a company with a business casual dress code, but there is no clear, pervasive definition of exactly what that means.
Jamie Notter, a founding partner of the Washington D.C. culture consulting firm WorkXO ties the growth in workplaces permitting business casual dress to the “results only work environment” movement which suggests that, as long as employees are getting their work done, it is less important that they spend eight to 10 hours a day in the office.
“It’s a little more honest for companies to admit that if their dress code doesn’t really impact getting the work done, then it’s difficult to justify having one,” he says. Notter also believes that a more casual dress code can be an important employee benefit or perk that can help employers attract and retain top performing employees.
“I think people are attracted to things that let them be themselves,” he says. “Each generation has become less and less formal over time and I believe millennials in particular are going to be attracted to that authenticity piece.”
Consistent data from the International Foundation of Employee Benefits 2016 Employee Benefit Survey reveals almost half of the participating organizations have a business casual dress code in effect. Twenty-two percent offer a casual (think jeans and sneakers) dress code all week and 40% permit casual dress only on Fridays.
The increase in the number of workplaces offering a casual dress code either on Fridays or for the entire work week may in part be attributed to the “Mark Zuckerberg” effect, says Anne Killian, communications associate at IFEBP. “The CEO of multi-billion dollar Facebook has set a trend where jeans, tennies and hoodies are commonplace in the workplace and it’s catching on,” Killian writes in an IFEBP blog.
But as more employees shed their business suits, ties and heels, it is becoming apparent that the lines between acceptable and unacceptable workplace garb are often blurred. Notter recommends a clear workplace policy to ensure both employers and employees are on the same page.
“I’ve heard of cases where it’s not just a written policy, it’s a photo policy,” he says. “It’s very helpful if you want employees to understand they can’t wear clothes that are too revealing to actually include pictures of what that means.”
Nevertheless, Notter believes there are still a time and a place for more formal dress, depending on the organizational culture. “For example, I work in D.C. and the uniform for the whole political world is a blue suit. And if I’m giving a public presentation I will typically get more dressed up,” he explains.
For companies that still have not introduced a more casual dress policy year-round but are planning to do so, the IFEBP offers three tips to make the transition a smooth one:
1. Try a trial. Start small, perhaps one day per week. With summer approaching, relaxing your dress code during these months is an easy (and free) perk that your employees will love.
2. Be clear. Set guidelines and communicate them to your employees. Clear policies and terms will ensure that everyone is on the same page for what is — and what is not — appropriate apparel for your office culture.
3. Keep it legal. Before establishing dress code requirements that prohibit all tattoos and piercings, for example, employers should determine if their prohibitions run contrary to state law.
“Keep it positive. Don’t just say ‘We’re caving to the pressure and we’re getting rid of our dress code,’” Notter says. “Convey instead that the change is an intentional one to help drive employee engagement.”
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