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Going casual vs. going formal: the pros and cons of office dress codes

The question of whether offices should implement a dress-code has been ongoing for decades.

Certain businesses think it’s essential for their employees to dress in formal office-wear for their day-to-day, while others allow employees a bit of extra freedom to dress comfortably as they carry out their day’s tasks.

Whilst it’s certainly important for employees to seem smart and appropriate when meeting clients face-to-face, it’s also shown to be beneficial to allow staff the freedom to decide what they wear themselves, for an average day at the office.

Here are some pros and cons for office dress codes, and some reasons why a more causal approach might suit your business more.

Stylish handsome bearded man in trendy suit looking away on black

“A smart dress code creates a positive impression for clients” …but also dulls down the office day-to-day.

Many companies whose employees spend much of their day in and out of client meetings prefer to take a formal dress code approach, as it gives an immediate impression that their employees are smart, reliable and in control. It helps shape the way the company is perceived by clients as soon as they walk through the meeting room door and helps build trust between company and client.

There’s no denying that looking smart appeals to clients, however, even in offices where there is a day-to-day informal dress-code, employees are likely to make extra effort on days they’re expecting to meet clients.

These days, so many meetings take place over the computer or phone that it doesn’t matter hugely what anybody is wearing. Allowing employees to dress as they wish on “normal” office days, knowing they will dress a little smarter on days that face-to-face meetings are taking place, allows them to feel in control and even let’s them feel more creative. There’s nothing that dampens a person’s creative spirit like putting restrictions on them – and allowing staff to dress more colourfully will brighten up the office day-to-day, too.

“A smart dress code encourages professional behaviour” …but is it actually necessary for professional behaviour?

It’s generally considered, among companies who implement a smart dress code, that when employees don their suits for the day they enter their “professional mode”. They feel the person is ready to behave in a way which reflects their brand or business when they are dressed to match.

But one might then question why the company feels its staff would behave inappropriately or perform below standard if they’d been allowed to dress themselves.

It must be admitted that the spectrum is broad – tracksuit bottoms and a football jersey is a far cry from a tailored suit, but there’s definitely a happy middle-ground whereby staff can choose whatever clothes the like (so long as they’re appropriate for the outdoors and not a duvet day…)

It may be worth noting that one of Google’s 10 “principle philosophies” is “You can be serious without a suit”. While you needn’t copy all Google’s approaches to offices (no need to install “huddle and nap rooms” just yet), this one may be worth considering.

“A smart dress code makes employees focus on their work more, not on what to wear” …but do adult employees think in the same way as school children?

We all remember our school days, asking our parents from time to time “Why do we have to wear school uniforms?” to be met with the answer, “So that you don’t need to worry about what to wear in the morning and can concentrate on your work.”

Some companies may think that if staff are required to follow a specific dress code or wear a uniform, they’ll be more focused on their work than on what they’re wearing, thus saving them time in the morning and helping keep their attention on their job throughout the day.

But it’s unrealistic and somewhat demeaning to consider grown adults think and behave in the same way as schoolchildren, and that being allowed to choose what they wear will prevent them from working to a high standard.

If anything, allowing employees the freedom to dress as they wish will make them feel more relaxed about work and gain more respect for the company, thus encouraging them to want to work hard.

Have you ever heard the saying, “A happy employee is a productive employee”? It’s true! So, if you think you’re employees – and, ultimately, your business – would benefit by giving your employees a little extra freedom, have a rethink about your company dress code.