Minimal design, stiff collar, subdued colors – the hallmark of a formal shirt that has been a rite of passage of sorts for all aspiring corporate executives and more so inside The White House since times immemorial. In comes President Obama and things begin to relax a little bit. In his first official White House photograph, Obama was seen inside the Oval Office without a suit jacket. Many a heads turned, leaving some of the old-timers perplexed. Little did they know that it was just the beginning of a new wave inside The White House.
A few months later, the newly appointed member of the US Digital Services walks into the White House wearing jeans and t-shirt. The man was Michael “Mike” Dickerson whose job was to fix the fumbling healthcare.gov.
Dickerson, comes with an excellent resumé from Google is not used to the formal suit, thanks to the relaxed work environment at Mountain View. So when you have the necessary credentials, can handle the worst of the situations with ease and deliver the best results to everyone’s satisfaction, does it really matter what you wear? This shift at the White House seems to have fanned an age-old debate once again. But does it mean that you should take a hint and ease up your company’s dress code as well?
Why a suit and tie matter at work?
Some professional firms working in law, finance, accounting etc. require employees to wear formal business attire. Suits send out the right message of confidence and power to clients according to them. When you need to portray a position of power, your attire must reflect that. It enables employees to negotiate deals with confidence and instill trust among the clients.
Formal attire also helps create a sense of uniformity in the corporate culture of an organization. They reflect that the employees respect their position and the organization. It also sends the signal that the employees are educated, intelligent, authoritative, confident and secure in their position. According to experts, a well-fitted suit gives them a psychological edge in a conversation. Ill-fitted, wrinkled or casual attire, on the other hand deprives you of that edge every time you come face-to-face with someone in a suit.
Why does it need to change?
According to a survey by SHRM, about 34 percent bosses permit casual attire in the workplace – that’s just one in three. This number has come down from over 50 percent in just the past decade.
A Wired article from August 2014, says that the objective of allowing Dickerson to come to work in casuals was to give out the message that things are changing at The White House, and no one is force to wear a suit and tie since it isn’t required for doing a great job.
Considering the example of Dickerson’s former employer, Google where a lack of formal dress code has never hurt productivity for anyone and the company is consistently ranked as one of the best places to work.
A lot of experts believe that this shift in dressing styles has in part been spurred by millennials who have grown up witnessing the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs in their jeans and turtlenecks. They believe that your clothes are not critical to your success in the workplace.
Having said that, this change may not be applicable to everyone, especially in the client or customer facing positions. But most organizations that still enforce a formal workplace dress code are do so because it’s always been that way, or they aren’t sure how employees would dress up in the absence of a dress code.
So, should you change your company’s dress code?
Well, the answer to that depends on your business and how you want to manage your human resources. What we wear to work on any given day affects our focus, productivity and motivation. In his research paper, Mike Slepian says, “casual clothing makes workers think less abstractly and more concretely — useful for completing tasks focusing on details such as writing code or planning a product launch.”
If your organization is offering professional services where your employees need to elicit trust and authority among the clients, perhaps sticking to more formal attire is advisable. But if your business centers around the ideals of innovation and creativity, then you might need to reconsider a formals-only dress code.
The moral of the story is that the more you allow your employees to feel comfortable in their own skin, the more they will feel motivated to apply themselves to reach their peak productivity. It may help though, to have a frank discussion between your HR and employees to ensure that any decision on the matter is clear in its objectives and how it will benefit the overall productivity of the organization.