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61% of employees more productive when dress code is relaxed, study finds

61% of people looking for a new job in 2017 say they’d have a negative perception of any company that enforced a dress code.

Meanwhile, the majority of UK workers say they would feel more productive and put more effort into their appearance if there wasn't a dress code, according to a study by Stormline.

78% of respondents said that even without a dress code, they’d still make an effort to dress well and would make a clear distinction between ‘work clothes’ and ‘non-work clothes’.

Of those, 91% said they felt the quality and condition of what they wore was more important than whether it complied with a dress code and they would be more likely to spend more on clothes if they had more choice in what they wore.

68% said they were more likely to trust a well-dressed colleague to do a good job than someone in the same position who ‘didn’t make an effort’, but clothing style and formality didn’t have a significant influence on perceptions of competence. This suggests that we want to dress to impress, but resent being told what to wear.

Of those who are required to observe a dress code which is sometimes relaxed (for example on ‘dress down Friday'), 61% say they feel more productive when the dress code is relaxed.

Attitudes to company dress codes between the sexes



A strict dress code would give me a negative perception of a business



A strict dress code would give me a positive perception of a business



A strict dress code would not change my perception of a business



I believe workplace dress codes are discriminatory to the opposite sex



I believe workplace dress codes are discriminatory to my sex



I am more productive and happier when I can dress how I like (only respondents who work somewhere with a dress code that is sometimes relaxed, for example on ‘dress down Friday’ answered this)



I don’t believe workplace dress codes are useful (only respondents who work somewhere with a dress code answered this)



When asked to select the dress code requirement - from a list of common requirements -  that gave the most negative impression of a business, people were most likely to select something that affected themselves due to their sex.

The most commonly selected dress code requirement among women (59%) was being asked to wear high heeled shoes. Among men, the most commonly selected item was being required to wear a tie (41%).

Other requirements that created a negative impression of a business were restrictions on piercings (men - 12%, women 19%) and requiring tattoos to be covered up (men 17%, women 10%).

Occupational health expert, Sir Cary Cooper CBE, professor of organisational psychology & health at the ALLIANCE Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, believes that formal dress codes have had their day. He said, “Uniforms and workwear that protect the wearer or help them be identified have obvious utility, but I don’t see the point in asking someone to wear a tie around their neck or to specify the colour of their shoes.

“Employers should trust their people enough to let them dress how they please. They may wish to advise on items they don’t want to see in the office, but to specify what they must wear is highly patronising.

“We must also consider the challenges of a formal dress code for people with disabilities, both hidden and visible, and chronic illnesses. Psoriasis sufferers, for example, may struggle wearing a buttoned up collar but may not feel confident in asking for exemption from the dress code.”

Regan McMillan, director of Stormline, thinks dress codes are useful to some industries and a hindrance in others and commented, “I think there’s a big difference between workwear, uniforms and dress codes. If you’re working in a dangerous environment, for example fishing, then the rules are about safety. If you’re public-facing, a uniform can help people identify you when they need you, but I can’t really think of a good reason why a web developer or a project manager would want - or need - to be told what to wear.

“Yet businesses in the UK still seem oddly keen on making their talent dress in specific, often very restrictive ways. Our research suggests that this sort of attitude could actually be harming businesses and their ability to attract the top talent, while creating some low level disgruntlement among their teams.”

Case Study

One respondent to the study, who didn’t want his name to be published, said that the dress code in place at his current place of work is the primary reason he is looking to move on.

He said, “I work in the I.T department of a financial services business, so on the one hand we’re a regulated company in a serious industry, but on the other hand, myself and my team spend a lot of our days in server rooms or under desks unplugging equipment, so wearing a suit just means we waste a lot of time taking our jackets off and putting them on again.

“The company policy here is strict, to the point that shoes must be black, men must be clean-shaven and shirts must be plain, not patterned. Ties are compulsory. I resent being told how to dress, especially when a lot of my friends who have similar jobs can dress how they like, doing the same work, but for more progressive companies.

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