This article was originally published on the 28th of May 2019.
Should your staff be wearing a uniform at work? If you’re a health professional or an airline operative uniforms are likely to be standard attire. Think about uniforms a little wider.
Business suit, laboratory coat, overalls, apron and branded polo shirt are all uniforms at the end of the day. Your business may have a company dress code and this article also relates to that. For ease of consistency, we will use Uniform as the umbrella term for all.
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Why have a uniform?
There are practical reasons for some professions to have uniforms. For example;
- personal protection (police stab vests)
- to protect own clothing (mechanic overalls)
- free company advertising (UPS delivery drivers)
- for ease of identity (cabin crew)
- to prevent cross contamination (food production facilities)
- security (protecting secure areas from obvious trespassers)
Uniforms also have an indirect impact on
- Solidarity or team spirit
- Professionalism and customer relations
- Profitability and business value
So, should you be encouraging a dress code or uniform for the benefit of your business?
1. Uniforms impacting productivity
If you’ve ever worked in an environment where you wear a uniform, you’ll also know the relief of getting home. You take off the uniform and change into something you can relax in. Yes?
The opposite is also true. Putting on your uniform subliminally tells you that it’s time for work. You may even stand taller and become more determined in your decisions. You are ready for work and the challenges ahead.
Studies also show that uniforms can also increase abstract thinking, an important trait of modern business.
Dress down Friday reduces productivity
A conversation with a solicitor regarding their dress down Friday policy was enlightening. Their usual uniform is business smart. Suits for the men, tailored outfits or suits for the women. This is swapped for jeans and casual shirts on dress down Friday.
They are aware that productivity in the office takes a tumble each Friday. Somehow the relaxation in uniform promotes a relaxation in work pace or focus.
So why continue? Over the longer period of a week or month productivity is maintained. What is lacking on dress down Fridays, is made up over the rest. There is also a boost to team interactions on the dress down days. Right now, they are benefitting on the whole.
The learning here is what productivity might be like for businesses without a uniform. Those who dress down every day. Are they running at a permanently lower level of productivity?
2. Uniforms impacting creativity
After a childhood of ill-fitting blazers and itchy school jumpers is it any wonder there’s also some resistance to uniforms. A 2017 study concluded that 1 in 5 people working in the creative sector have considered leaving their jobs because of an enforced dress code. Others would say that uniforms or smart dress stifles creativity.
If your clothing constrains you when you need free movement, that is a different issue. You don’t see gymnasts in tailored suits. However, most creatives do wear a uniform.
Their uniform of choice is jeans and t-shirt and it is accepted by others that this is their uniform. Most dress alike. Picture your web designer, marketing guys, social media bloggers.
Now think about Steve Jobs’ black turtle neck, jeans and trainers. Or Mark Zuckerberg’s grey t-shirt, jeans and trainers. Both have chosen to pretty much always wear the same clothing. It is said that both felt it lowered their decision making first thing in the day allowing for more brainpower in their day to day roles.
Whether you believe this or not, the thing is that they do. So even those considered to be amongst the most creative by modern society chose to wear a uniform of sorts. It doesn’t increase their creativity, but importantly for them, it doesn’t decrease it.
3. Uniforms impact solidarity or teamwork
If I asked you to describe a fan of punk music, or heavy metal, country music, you would probably describe someone who sports the ‘uniform’ of those genres.
New Romantics, Grunge, Hip Hop, Reggae, Opera. There has barely been a music genre that didn’t have a defined uniform.
We are naturally drawn to people who are a mirror image of ourselves. Seeing someone in the same uniform as us promotes a feeling of solidarity or team spirit. You become loyal to one another, supportive, and prepared to defend your position above all else. Think Mods and Rockers of Quadrophenia.
Now there may be a little less passion in a workplace than there is in music, but harnessing that team spirit and solidarity is no less beneficial.
Studies have shown that what you wear can have a massive effect on how a person will feel and act during the day. By dressing similarly, you level the playing field, meaning each person in the team should be equally respected.
It helps to mask the affluence of a person. The area they live in. The upbringing they had. A uniform allows them to be assessed more on their abilities.
4. Uniforms impacting professionalism and customer relations
If we consider the most memorable days of our private lives we all dress up. We are either honouring the occasion (day at the races) or we are honouring the people involved (weddings).
In business, the uniform you wear should be chosen with care.
- Business smart
- Business casual
- Super casual
- Where do you draw the line with regards to jewellery, tattoos, piercings, hair styles?
Your uniform needs to demonstrate your professional abilities in what you do and a degree of respect for your customers. An old rule of thumb was to always dress ‘one notch smarter’ than your customers.
If you were unfortunate enough to be up in court, would you want your defence Barrister to arrive in jeans and trainers paying homage to Steve Jobs? Probably not. It shows a lack of professionalism.
It takes 7 seconds for us to form an opinion of someone on first meeting. Why? Because we have been conditioned through centuries to expect Barristers to look a certain way. A view reinforced with every TV drama and film ever watched. So if your Barrister arrives looking like Steve Jobs, you don’t trust that they can do the job required of them.
A trip to the House of Commons
A digital marketing friend was invited to a discussion group at the House of Commons. The invitation stated “usual business dress”. Their usual dress is jeans with branded polo shirt, but felt that was not right for the event.
Trainers were swapped for smart shoes and a tailored jacket was worn on top of the branded polo. They dressed ‘one notch smarter’ for the occasion, wanting to make the right impression.
If your business is professional, you need a professional uniform (accountants, education, estate agency, GP etc).
If your business is casual, your uniform can be casual
(IT, marketing, brewing, seamstress etc).
Stick within these broad categories and you are demonstrating professionalism to your customers. Cross the boundaries and customers will begin to question the credibility of your business.
So, rather like creativity, uniforms don’t improve a professional image, but can severely damage it.
Like my solicitor friend earlier on, you need to;
- consider what image you want your business to portray
- what your customer demographic have been conditioned to expect from a business in your field
- whether your uniform promotes the correct level of professionalism for your customers
- define it for your staff and how far it can relax on dress down Friday’s
- And if tattoos, piercings and extreme hairstyles are not going to sit comfortably with your customers, employ those people in non customer-facing positions
Apple and Facebook may appear to have a carefree attitude to uniforms, but even they will have limits. They won’t want employees wearing offensive slogans on their t-shirts, for instance.
5. Uniforms impacting business value
There is an indirect correlation between uniforms and business value.
We know customer satisfaction and staff satisfaction are great metrics in business. Both are metrics in the 8 Key Drivers of business value, a summary of which is available here.
When we have already discussed how uniforms can have a positive or negative impact on
- Solidarity or team spirit
It follows that these feed into customer and staff satisfaction ratings. Simplistically speaking;
Better team spirit = higher productivity = greater profits = increased value
Recognised professionalism = increased loyalty = repeat transactions = increased value
As we said at the beginning, the term ‘uniform’ has been used to encompass all dress codes. If you don’t have one, is it time you reviewed your contracts of employment to include some guidelines?
Finally, Generational Change
Remember that perceptions change with generations. Our grandfather’s wore a collar and tie at all times when leaving the house. No matter if they were going to work, taking a trip to the beach or off down to the pub, they would dress smartly.
Generations later and we accept that ties are no longer essential in business meetings, never mind the beach.
Boardrooms were oak panelled rooms filled with crusty men in suits. They are now a modern, relaxed and inclusive environment. In some sectors we have swapped them completely for stand up meetings where words like ‘sprint’ and ‘scrum’ highlight how businesses are evolving a more agile and dynamic approach.
And as the boardroom changes, it promotes a more liberal approach to individual attire. The circle of life for uniforms.
This means that whatever the uniform or dress code standard is that you adopt, it does need to be reviewed and adapted with time.
If you’d like to explore your own business value and how to improve it, please get in touch.