In the modern office, the rights of the individual to personal expression are increasingly trumping company identity. But is a relaxed office dress code really the key to a happier and more productive workplace?
Candace Bushnell, the author of Sex and the City, pens her novels while wearing silk pyjamas in her living room. In Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs’ now iconic daily uniform of a black turtleneck paved the way for the millennial tech CEOs of today, whose sneaker-and-hoodie office dress code screams success rather than slacker.
For most of us, our work attire sits somewhere on the jeans-and-blazer spectrum. But it’s likely that we’ve all – at some point – harboured fantasies of rolling straight out of bed and into the office, resplendent in a baggy grey t-shirt and drawstring pants.
At PricewaterhouseCoopers, a decision made earlier this year certainly nudges the societal weather vane closer towards this outcome. In June, the top-end firm abandoned its ‘modern professional’ dress code, replacing it with … nothing.
That’s right. In place of a new set of guidelines, the company now simply leaves it to employees to use their best judgement and wear what works best for them, while also being respectful and appropriately attired to meet clients and colleagues.
This contrasts noticeably with an incident at the same company’s office in the UK, where Nicola Thorp, a temp receptionist, was sent home after refusing to wear heels. It drew a lot of negative publicity for PwC and prompted widespread discussion about the purview of employers in enforcing gender specific or objectively oppressive dress codes on their workers.
Sue Horlin, PwC’s new human capital leader in Australia, explained to Business Insider that they believe their change in policy will give them an edge in the war for talent, stating “we want the same creative, innovative and diverse people that all the other companies are chasing.”
For HR professionals like Horlin, it’s a topic that treads a fine line between hot-button issues of gender equality in the workplace, and policies that ensure a company presents a unified and professional front to the world
“There has been a dramatic change very recently,” says Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University. “We are moving into an era where personal expression is going to trump the desire to create a corporate identity.”
But does a more casual approach to work dress, championed at places like Google, actually lead to more productive workplace environments?
A 2015 study at California State University found the opposite is true. Wearing more formal clothes “encourages people to use abstract processing more readily than concrete processing,” according to their findings. In layman’s terms, there is evidence to suggest that dressing professionally helps us behave more professionally too.
So what are your thoughts? Has your workplace considered an office dress code policy change? And if so, how has it effected your office?
To put things in perspective, here’s what the HRMonline team wore to work today:
As you can see, we’re a pretty casual crowd.