The new formal? The casual wear revolution in the workplace
The suit, tie and high heels were symbols of 20th century office life. For some time now, what we wear at work has gradually become more casual.
Vests and bowler hats were abandoned decades ago, ties have given way to open-neck shirts, and more recently the tech and creative industries have led the way in introducing jeans, sneakers and t -shirts at the office.
Already in terminal decline, the pandemic push to work from home has hastened the end of formal dress codes in the office. But John Spencer, CEO of BizSpace, wonders after a year of watching colleagues on video, mostly in casual clothes, will fitting in and starting to travel to downtown offices ever come back? Or has the pandemic and the fact that we have seen inside the homes of our colleagues and clients and our meetings with them may have been interrupted by their children or pets, ushered in a new a more relaxed, more relaxed, more flexible and more personal way of working?
With just 10% of pandemic homeworkers dressing for work, according to a survey by apparel industry analyst NPD, a return to pre-pandemic sartorial workwear standards seems unlikely. Before covid, the suit was already struggling, with just one in ten people wearing one to the office, according to a 2018 Travelodge survey. But that doesn’t mean lawlessness in UK offices, with people in t- scruffy shirts and ripped jeans. Research found that workers preferred chinos, stylish button-down shirts and jackets, as well as jeans and sneakers. In short, a flexible attitude towards work clothes by dressing according to the situation. This reflects the move towards a more flexible way of working, not only in terms of location – with an increase in the demand for working from home and in local offices – but also in the work culture: less dictatorial and more user-friendly and collaborative.
The dress code of a company has a major influence on the perception of a potential employee. And in the battle to attract rare talent, this is important. In a 2017 survey by Stormline, 61% of workers responded that they would have a negative opinion of an employer who applies a dress code; four-fifths thought the dress code at their current workplace was unnecessary; while almost two-thirds believed they would be more productive if they dressed the way they wanted.
Dress codes can also be a problem in retaining staff. 17% of 18-24 year olds surveyed in a nationally representative study by Style Compare had considered quitting their jobs because of a strict dress code. But dress code decreases significantly as an issue with older working generations, with just 5% of people over 55 agreeing. Attitudes towards dress codes also change with the industry. Creative industries such as media, advertising, and design have had a casual dress code for decades. Other sectors have now joined them with 31% of employees surveyed in the science and pharmacy sectors saying they would leave their jobs if a strict dress code was in place and 29% in the IT sector. Of course, this investigation did not include safety critical work where the correct stipulated clothing is essential.
Sectors known for their sartorial clutter, such as finance, are increasingly adopting a more casual dress code. Even Goldman Sachs, a former costume designer, shirt and tie, took a more flexible approach in 2019, requiring its staff to dress according to customer expectations. With tech entrepreneurs wearing t-shirts to head some of the world’s most impressive and invested companies, this perhaps comes as no surprise. One only needs to look at Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, a company worth around $ 900 billion, dressed casually, to know that business dress etiquette has evolved.
Technology has influenced the financial sector in other ways as well. Many banks and other more traditional institutions want to emulate the creative success of the more enterprising and agile culture of tech start-ups. This is especially the case with their move to fintech, which has led to a more flexible approach to dress code and location.
The battle to attract and retain talent, especially in the context of millennials who now make up over 50% of the UK workforce, goes beyond technology to many other sectors. The different values and priorities of the younger generations compared to their predecessors bring a more collaborative approach to the workplace, leading to move away from hierarchical management structures and fostering more flexibility and autonomy in decision-making. As a result, companies are pairing relaxed dress codes with more modern ways of working that appeal to younger generations, including flexible hours, anywhere seat policies, and flexible workspaces closer to their employees’ homes. For example, HSBC and Lloyds have reduced their presence in the city, increasing their network of more local and closer to home workplaces across the country.
The image that a company presents through its dress code is also important. A strict dress code and large central offices are associated by many investors and employees with a rigid and inflexible management style. Agility, flexibility and creativity are the values that companies must now express.
The pandemic has revealed what has always been true – people are a company’s most important asset. Gone are the days of long and unproductive servile journeys from Monday to Friday. Now workers want a hybrid working style; work in a central office, local office or at home, depending on the tasks at hand and how best to accomplish them. Along with that, there is a flexible approach to dressing appropriately for the task at hand. In short, with intense competition for the best talent, companies must let employees decide, giving them the choice of what to wear and where to work.