Do uniforms work at work?
Should your staff be wearing a uniform at work? If you’re a health professional, airline operative, in retail, or in banking, wear overalls as a mechanic or engineer, white coats as a chemist, then uniforms are likely to be standard attire.
Reasons for having these uniforms will range from personal protection, to prevent damage to clothing, an effective way of company advertising, practicality within the work environment, prevention of contamination or to be easily identifiable. These are true uniforms.
However, in other professions, primarily office based and client facing, working environments, what are acceptable dress codes? What are the ‘uniforms’ of acceptability that working society places on itself?
A Balancing Act
The main debate surrounding a workplace dress code tends to focus upon the effect the clothes employees wear and how it impacts their productivity. Only recently did I have a conversation with a solicitor regarding their dress down Friday policy and he is aware that productivity takes a tumble. At the moment, the benefit to staff morale balances the dip in productivity, so they are sticking with it.
If we expand that scenario:
What are the benefits of introducing a workplace dress code and is there any proof that employees work better when they’re dressed smartly?
All for one
A dress code in the workplace helps to unify your staff. By wearing the same uniform or following the same dress code as one another, each member of staff is placed on a level playing field. I recently watched Hidden Figures (highly recommended film about the role of black scientists during the NASA space race with Russia). Part of the film sees the supervisor reeling off a list of appearance requirements or ‘uniform’ to the staff member;
- Skirt below the knee
- Sweater is preferred to a blouse
- No jewellery except for a simple string of pearls
That was the 1960s, during the 1970’s we were first told that a person decides if they like and/or respect you in the first couple of seconds of meeting. As such, everything should be done to convey a professional image; dark suit, white shirt, plain tie, laced up shoes. But times change.
What is the equivalent today for your business?
- Business suit
- Business casual
- Super casual
- Where do you draw the line with regards to jewellery, tattoos, piercings, hair styles?
What do these definitions actually mean? Are you clear on how you wish your company to be presented? Have you communicated this to your staff?
Studies have shown that, psychologically, what you wear can have a massive effect on how a person will feel and act during the day. By keeping everyone dressed similarly, suddenly everyone is on the same level, meaning each person in the team should be respected equally.
Its difficult to deny the effect of appearance on how we perceive someone. Casual workwear could be viewed as allowing employees to have a relaxed approach to their duties. Uniforms or a smart dress code indicate professionalism and pride in the job at hand. Studies have also shown that dressing to impress gives us a sense of power and positivity. Yet creatives will say the opposite. Those artists, designers, creators might say they feel stifled by a uniform and need to express themselves through their clothing in order to express themselves through their work.
If you’ve ever worked in an environment where you wear a uniform or had to dress smartly, you’ll know the feeling of getting home and changing out of your workwear into your comfy clothes for relaxing. In the same way putting on a uniform helps to put your staff into the mindset of “It’s time to work”. Studies have shown the effect that uniforms have on increasing productivity in the workplace. One study showed the impact that our clothes have on performance, by increasing abstract thinking, an important trait for your workforce to adopt.
However, there are counter arguments to implementing a uniform policy in the workplace. After an entire childhood of ill-fitting blazers, itchy school jumpers and making your tie as short as possible (whilst simultaneously managing to strangle yourself), is it any wonder there’s some resistance to dressing smartly in your working life?
Does uniform fit with the ethos of your business? Not all companies have a corporate image and so it’s important to consider whether a uniform or dress code would be out of place with your brand. There is also the possibility of employee resistance with a fear that a dress code restricts employees of their individuality and expression.
What the customers think?
An old rule of thumb was always to dress ‘one notch smarter’ than the customers you are likely to meet. That no longer seems to be the case with most companies ditching the tie and, in the case of digital media companies, mostly adopting a jeans and t-shirt approach for day to day, only swapping into a formal shirt for important meetings (but keeping the jeans).
So what if we revisit our solicitors from earlier? Would you trust the services of a male solicitor who met you wearing shorts in the summer? Would you trust the services of a female solicitor who met you wearing a crop top and showing off a naval piercing?
No matter how much we say we judge people on their abilities over their appearance there is always going to be a gut reaction that happens before logic rushes in. Just like our fight or flight mechanism, judgement seems to be built in. The question then is whether logic can override that gut reaction and are we losing business as a result?
Miss Moneypenny, take a letter – NOT
Bear in mind also, that perceptions change with generations. The ‘Boardroom’ and it’s members, has largely transitioned from a fusty, arcane environment, filled with men in suits, to a more modern, relaxed and inclusive environment; it is now even fashionable to supplant the boardroom for stand up meetings around a table, where words like ‘sprint’ and ‘scrum’ highlight how businesses are evolving a more agile and dynamic approach to their ways of working and which, consequently, has led to a more liberal approach to individual attire in the workplace.
So, with these points in mind, will you be making any changes to your workplace dress code? Is it imperative to wear a tie to work? There could be more to the phrase dress for the job you want, not the one you have than we thought…
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