Dress codes have become progressively less formal over the past few years. Virgin Atlantic made history by no longer prohibiting staff from displaying their tattoos. “At Virgin Atlantic, we want everyone to be themselves and know that they belong,” the airline’s chief people officer, Estelle Hollingsworth told the Wall Street Journal. Wimbledon has dropped its all-white clothing requirement in response to women athletes’ period anxiety. They are now allowed to play with coloured shorts under their tennis skirts. Decades-old rules are being relaxed in favour of individuality and comfort. Corporate dress is also becoming more casual. Work from home has opened people’s eyes to the idea of being comfortably dressed while working and workers are not ready to return to the strict, pre-pandemic dress codes. “Dress codes in the finance sector have historically had the most conservative, formal standards, and even those are changing,” said New York-based stylist, Jessica Cadmus.
Why is it important?
A study by StitchMine showed 47% of workers believe that a relaxed dress code improves productivity. Says occupational health expert, Sir Cary Cooper, “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.” A relaxed dress code allows workers more freedom to express themselves. Research in the Academy of Management Journal shows that flexible dress can improve the self esteem of employees. This in turn translates into better staff retention and makes it easier to attract new talent in an environment of increased resignations, according to research from staffing firm OfficeTeam. A recent McKinsey survey found that 40% of people surveyed in six countries are unhappy at work and are considering leaving their jobs in the near future.
What can businesses do about it?
Businesses should reevaluate their dress codes and how necessary it is to uphold strict rules. Perhaps a hybrid approach could work where, for example, meetings with clients are formal while the rest of the time it’s smart casual. Gen Zers, especially, are challenging the status quo with regards to dress codes and, seeing that they represent the new workforce, companies should consider revising their rules to be more attractive to these younger workers. Providing employees with more flexibility in terms of dress has many benefits and may be better suited to the modern workplace. Benefits include improving employee productivity and morale, lessening workplace bias and better office camaraderie. It’s a work benefit with no cost for employers!
By Faeeza Khan
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