On March 6th 2019, financial giant Goldman Sachs announced plans to relax their dress code. As a company known for its formal atmosphere and bankers dressed in suits and ties, this change was relatively unexpected as banks, and financial organisations have been slow to adopt the same laid back approach to dress code as some other, more creative, sectors.

When it comes to relaxing company dress codes, Goldman Sachs is certainly not alone. Virgin Atlantic also recently changed its dress code, so female flight attendants no longer need to wear makeup and are now allowed to wear trousers. And, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, roughly 50% of companies currently have a casual dress code, a 6% increase from 2017 and 18% increase from 2014.

With companies increasingly adopting a casual dress code, we may be seeing a shift in attitudes towards employee appearance and what is considered appropriate apparel. We’ll explore some of the benefits of relaxing your company’s dress code and how to go about it.

Why are Dress Codes Important?

While Goldman Sachs may be ditching their dress code, many companies choose to uphold the suit and tie approach. Strict dress codes are particularly common within formal, ‘white collar’ industries like banking and legal services, which is one reason that Goldman Sach’s recent decision is somewhat surprising.

Many companies view employee appearance as a reflection of the company. According to conventional thinking, strict dress codes (i.e. a suit and tie) conveys a sense of authority, responsibility and trustworthiness. Allowing employees to dress as they see fit also leaves room for ambiguity and some companies worry that employees won’t choose professional apparel.

As a result, a casual dress code can seem a bit risky or an unwise move. On the other hand, providing employees with more flexibility, in terms of what they wear, does have some benefits and may be better suited for the modern workplace.

What Are the Benefits of a Relaxed Dress Code?

Adopting a more relaxed dress code can have some significant benefits for your company. It can make your company more attractive to potential employees, promote gender equality, increase morale and, according to some, even boost productivity. Here are some of the biggest benefits:

A More Attractive Work Environment

When it comes to attracting young, promising employees, a more relaxed dress code could make all the difference. According to one study, over 60% of employees, especially amongst younger generations, want to work at companies that promote casual. So, employers that want to compete against the likes of Google and Facebook, two companies infamous for an extremely relaxed dress codes, might want to follow suit.

Happier Employees

Allowing staff members to choose what they’ll wear to work not only shows that you trust your employees to dress appropriately but can also increase employee morale. Think about it:

Most people are generally happier in clothes that they feel comfortable in.

And, if employees aren’t distracted by their clothing, they can focus on getting the most satisfaction from their work.

Companies with a casual dress code are also known for having a more positive work environment. A place where employees are trusted, and staff well-being and performance is more important than their appearance.

More Productive Employees

Some experts argue that a casual dress code can increase employee productivity. Rather than being distracted by uncomfortable clothing or worrying about their appearance, employees can concentrate 100% of their energy on achieving the greatest results and taking their performance to the next level. So much so, that 45% of companies reported greater productivity after relaxing the company’s dress code.

Greater Diversity

One of the biggest benefits of adopting a more casual dress code is promoting greater diversity. Strict dress codes often negatively impact minorities by fueling stereotypes. For example, women, under strict dress codes, are often required to wear skirts, high heels and makeup while people of religious faiths sometimes can’t wear certain clothing items like hijabs or crosses.

Strict dress codes can also prevent people from expressing themselves. Some companies, especially in retail and hospitality, don’t allow employees to have unnatural hair colour, piercings or tattoos.

As a result, strict dress codes directly determine the people who feel comfortable working at your company and severely limits the diversity of your recruitment pool.

How to Relax Your Company Dress Code

Are you ready to adopt a more casual dress code? Our step-by-step guide will help.

Step 1: Consider Client Expectations

The first step to relaxing your dress is to determine any requirements and establish a rough framework. In most cases, the formality of a company’s dress code depends on the amount and type of interactions employees have with clients. It’s important that employees dress to meet clients’ expectations; for example, if employees have to provide clients with professional counsel, they may need to wear more formal clothes.

Step 2: Think About Your Brand

Are there certain colours or styles that represent your brand? Dress codes around styles and colours are common within retail or food/beverage. For example, Abercrombie & Fitch want employees to dress like the brand to the degree that men wearing button-up collared shirts must unbutton the top three buttons and pop the collar.

Step 3: Determine What’s Necessary

Once you have a good understanding of any brand and client requirements, you can create a rough framework for employee dress code. It’s important to think about what’s absolutely necessary and if any of your ideas about how employees should dress might reinforce stereotypes. Finding the perfect balance between company expectations and employee’s freedom/comfort is essential for creating a happy and productive work environment.

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