Workplace Dress Codes for the Next Generation
Walk into any office today and you will find a noticeable difference in how employees are dressed from previous years. Casual is the buzzword in most dress codes, especially organizations with a younger workforce composed of millennials and Generation Z members. As Baby Boomers retire and Generation X workers begin to age out of the workforce, the impact of younger workers will also change the face of how employees dress for work.
The informal dress started slowly, emerging first as “casual Fridays,” where employees could forego suits, ties, and more formal wear for khakis and open-collared shirts. This wasn’t just a perk from employers. Employers realized when employees are given choices about dress code decisions, they can experience a boost in attitude that may result in increased productivity.
As technology began replacing face-to-face interactions during the 1990s, society became more accepting of casual wear in situations that used to require professional dress. It no longer seemed important to be dressed to meet the public. There are exceptions, though, such as lawyers and doctors, who still maintain a professional dress code. As technology continues to take on some duties of these professionals, there may be an accompanying change to how they present themselves in the future.
If a company promotes employee engagement, it creates a positive culture where management and employees work together to achieve goals. Employees who have control over their jobs and have the freedom to make choices are usually more satisfied and productive overall. This includes determining what to wear to work within the company dress code standards.
Still, despite the changes to company cultures and dress codes, there are still many organizations that require a conservative look. If a company is looking to move into the 21st century by becoming more collaborative, transparent and less structured, enforcing a decades-old dress code can kill those initiatives before they get off the ground.
Are dress codes necessary for today’s workplace?
Unless you have a small business, the answer is yes. You still need to supply guidelines as to what is appropriate and what is not for the benefit of those employees who may need them. Business casual codes are in approximately 50 percent of organizations. Twenty-two percent of organizations allow business casual every day, while 40 percent still have only business casual Fridays.
Here are a few points to consider when creating a company dress code:
- Type of business –businesses where clients are seen, may allow business casual on certain days, or not at all
- Get staff input to consider their opinions
- Start with a trial basis and then ask for their input after the trial
Instituting a company dress code can have repercussions. There is still a belief that dressing professionally puts people into a work mindset. Co-workers, customers and the general public still make judgments about competence and reliability based on appearance. Even if you don’t like dress codes, how confident would you feel if your doctor came to an appointment in a hoodie and flip-flops?
Another area of concern is most dress codes are aimed at how women dress, which can be perceived as a sexist approach. There can be problems with discrimination when clothing is worn for religious purposes. When recruiting younger workers, keep in mind 79 percent of millennials think they should be allowed to wear jeans to work sometimes, and most oppose dress codes in principle.
Where should you start if you want to change your dress code?
- Consider different standards for different departments, depending on customer interaction
- Handle specific problems with the individual instead of changing the code
- Understand tattoos, piercings, and different hair colors are becoming more common
- Don’t forbid things now that were not in the dress code originally – make the change gradually
Creating and enforcing a dress code can be a slippery slope in today’s workplace. Remember, most employees understand the need for guidelines and want to meet expectations. Making the process collaborative and securing input from employees as to what is appropriate is the best starting point.
Dress codes are a visible sign of the company’s culture and are part of the branding system. What do you want your employees’ appearance to say about your company and its missions and values in today’s workplace?