Casual workplace Attire – is it for everyone?

When Richard Branson heads to work he’s usually sporting a crisp casual shirt, jeans and a can do attitude.  He rarely bothers with suits or polished shoes and the only ties he has are those with other high profile brands.

It’s much the same when it comes to successful businessman and Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.  In fact, only recently Zuckerberg took to social media to reveal a picture of his wardrobe showing identical grey t-shirts and hoodies.

Captioning the photo jokingly ‘First day back after paternity leave. What should I wear?’, Zuckerberg once again referenced his attitude when it comes to work attire.   It was something he first disclosed in a summit in 2014.  

‘I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how best to serve this community,” he told his audience.

“I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life, and that way, I can dedicate all my energy to building the best products and services and helping us reach our goal and achieve our mission.”

But it’s not just these individuals that are shying away from traditional workplace attire. Some high profile companies are getting in on the act too.

Take Google for example.  Their relaxed attitude to dress code means that employees are able to turn up to work in their finest or most casual – depending on the day and their mood. 

Despite some fearing this lack of direction may affect productivity or morale, the opposite is in fact true.  Google is consistently rated as one of the best companies to work for.

And even research has shown that what we wear can affect how we feel in a positive way.

According to one study, conducted at the University of Hertfordshire, participants who were asked to wear a Superman t-shirt for a period of time believed they were stronger as a result.

Professor Karen Pine who led the research concluded that by dressing like a super-hero, people felt more confident and believed they could achieve more.

Now, whilst no one is suggesting that we all go to work dressed as superman, this kind of research does pose the question, if wearing casual clothes has such a positive impact, should more employers start adopting the same attitude?

At the present time Australian workplaces vary in their dress code policies.  Whilst some sectors traditionally still adhere to a suit and tie policy, others are more relaxed and, once the interview process is over, employees are encouraged to wear what they wish.

It’s a similar scenario when it comes to ‘casual Fridays’ – a dress down day which is now commonplace in many businesses and something that may provide the foundation for further change in work place dress codes.

But what do the experts think?  Is casual dress the way forward, or are there issues with this that need to be considered?

“While the research is not conclusive as to whether dress codes impact on productivity, workplace culture matters and dress is an important symbol of workplace culture,” says HR Consultant, Kate Brown. 

Still, she concludes that there’s no single right answer.

“Every business should consider the nature of their workplace, the culture they are looking to create and the impressions to customers and clients,” she says.

“For employers looking to create a dress code, the advice we would give is to involve your staff in the process, and gather a wide range of feedback.”

Brown suggests consulting with employees on the need for change and, in developing a dress code, adequately consider issues of diversity and equity.  She also notes the importance of allowing time for people to adjust to any change.

While the future of casual workplace dress codes remains to be seen, the truth is that there’ll always be those for and those against.

For some wearing jeans will always be synonymous with lounging around on a weekend…and even Branson and Zuckerberg couldn’t persuade them otherwise.