Workplace productivity: formal vs casual office wear

It’s undeniable that workwear in the office has changed over time. At one time, a nine-to-five job was synonymous with a three-piece suit and briefcase. But, now, many companies are happy to let their employees dress in business casual attire or what they feel comfortable in. Is it affecting productivity, though?

A change in direction

With the influence of the younger generation – office style has changed forever. It seems as though this age group is more protective over identity and style of dress and are opposed to being told what to wear.

The best way to describe business casual is ‘smart but not too professional’. For a man, this might be a fitted shirt without a tie, navy trousers and loafers. For women it could be a smart blouse with cropped, tailored trousers and flat shoes.

Believe it or not, more than one in ten workers aged 18-24 have considered leaving their workplace due to a strict dress code. Older employees, however, do not share the same strong views. Only 7% of those aged 55 and over said that they would think about leaving their employment because of the dress code. Compare this to 17% of 18-24s and it’s clear to see a divide. It might depend on which sector you operate in as to how your staff feel about uniform. Those working in the energy sector (32%), science and pharma sector (31%) and IT sector (29%) are most likely to leave their role due to dress code requirements, one study discovered. Some sectors are now implementing mandatory uniform and dress codes to boost morale within the staff. For example, some doctors are now wearing Branded Clothing for Hospitals, which has been successful so far.

Should the dress code be reduced to retain staff? Quite possibly. Employers are aware of how high staff turnover can have great cost and productivity implications. Costs incur during the recruitment process as the position is advertised and time is spent by employers interviewing and selecting candidates. Having a dress code may deter candidates too – 61% of people looking for a new job in 2017 said that they’d have a negative perception of any company that enforced a dress code. Productivity also takes a hit, as often a current employee has to spend time training the new starter or letting them shadow their day-to-day activities – this can prevent existing workers from working to their maximum capacity.

Creative companies are also pioneering the way for change in the workplace. In fact, between 2010 and 2016, the creative industries sub sectors (i.e advertising, film and TV) grew their economic contribution by 44.8%. Dress code is often less strict in these companies, as employees are encouraged to express their ‘creative flair’.

Performance impact

It’s proven that the way you dress could impact the way you perform at work. In one study, subjects were presented with a white coat and told different things. The participants that were told it was a doctor’s coat, felt more confident in accomplishing tasks compared to those that were told they were wearing a painter’s coat. Other research shows that wearing more formal clothing (such as a tuxedos) can make people think more broadly.

It might be worth knowing that Facebook creator, Mark Zuckerberg wears the same clothes every day and he runs a billion dollar platform. He says that dressing in this way gives him one less decision to make and allows him to focus on more important workplace decisions.

Stormline have found that the majority of workers in the UK have commented that they’d be more productive if they could wear what they wanted. Moreover, 78% of respondents to one survey said that they would still make an effort to dress well and wouldn’t blur the line between ‘work clothes’ and ‘non-work clothes’ if there weren’t any rules on what to wear.

Is it time for corporate change?

From our initial research above, it really does depend on the person – do they want to dress casually or formally for work?

This could be directly influenced by their role too. First impressions still, and most likely will, always count. If employees are in a client-facing role, it’s important to look professional and approachable – they are effectively representing the business and should be making it look good.

To make up your decision, UK black suits retailer Charles Tyrwhitt believe that you should be asking your staff what they want. This could be the best indicator of whether a uniform is best for the business or not. As we’ve seen, uniforms can affect behaviour at work and it is down to the individuals as to whether they work best following, or not adhering to, a dress code.