Does Dressing Down Bring the Stress Down in the Office?
Posted By GoodCall Contributor on July 24, 2017 at 10:08 am
No question about it, work culture is changing. Gone are the days of compulsory suits and high heels (in most place). Today, many offices follow anything from a business casual to “come as you please” codes. That said, many organizations still abide by traditional rules favoring dressing up over dressing down.
But does what a person wears to work really affect his or her attitude, performance, or general work environment? Furthermore, does an outfit trigger a judgment that could be detrimental in a professional environment?
How dress code affects others
Aside from practical uniforms, it’s important to explore if looking a certain way could help or hinder people’s opinions. According to a study by Psychology Today, “Our clothes make a huge difference to what people think about us.”
This study presented a controlled group with two photographs of a man wearing similar suits – one expensively tailored and the other an “off the hanger” cheaper alternative. Even though study participants only saw the image for three seconds, the group found the man “more confident, successful, flexible and a higher earner in a tailor-made suit than when he wore a high street equivalent.”
This indicates that a subconscious assumption is natural, even when someone isn’t explicit dressing down. But if a person is trying to convey a professional dominance, and even the quality of a suit has an effect, more casual dress codes could prove to have even more severe effects.
Research by the same organization tested impressions made based on minor changes to women’s clothing. To summarize the findings, minor alterations to the length of skirts or number of buttons open on a blouse significantly and negatively affected people’s opinions. Even though the changes made the clothes were still classed as “conservative,” participants considered the changes “provocative.”
Many support the idea that people should present themselves a certain way come across best. Tom Bourlet of The Stag Company says, “I do believe that you should dress formally for work, not just for the first week after you join but on a continual basis. You should treat every day like a job interview, aiming to prove yourself worthy and pushing yourself hard to achieve both your personal and your company’s goals. There is something about wearing smart clothing that makes you feel a foot taller and that little extra motivation.”
Or, as some put it, “Dress for the job you want – not the one you have.”
How dressing down or up affects the worker
It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that as an office worker, a relaxed uniform can only be a good thing. Freedom of expression, comfort, relaxed attitude, what could be the downside of a T-shirt and jeans in the office?
Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner argues having no difference between work and personal appearance can cause stress. An inability to separate those two parts of life could also result in lower morale and productivity.
Studies support the formal workwear argument with one particular report claiming workers felt more “competent” and “authoritative” in formal attire, in some ways supporting the perception from others outlined in the previously mentioned study.
But evidence suggests that people prefer to not be constricted by formal clothes at work. Some people consider formality antiquated, while others just prefer to be comfortable. When it comes to women and heels, safety also is a concern.
After considering the effects a uniform has on office workers, Mason Frank International changed it previously strictly business dress code. Its CEO stated, “our recent employee satisfaction survey identified that our staff want to be more comfortable in the office. We’ve responded to that by introducing a ‘business casual’ dress code with no compulsory ties and suit jackets.
“We understand that our sales team work long hours and need the extra flexibility when they’re not visiting clients. We’ve had a really positive response across the organization and are happy to make changes to suit the needs of our employees. You have to be willing to adapt. Don’t be afraid to be open and change things for the sake of organization culture.”
Does it really matter?
There are definitely two sides to this argument but one conclusion. The solution to a formal dress code is subjective. As demonstrated through studies and opinions of professionals, different organization choose to adopt different rules about dressing down. It’s about brand values and outlook. Do staff have formal client visits where they have to come across a certain way? Or do they sit in an office behind closed doors?
The key is communication between management and grassroots and ultimately finding the right approach for a specific business.
(Maria Baranowska is a freelance writer who specialiszes in business, technology and recruitment. After working as a responsible marketer for more than five years, Maria now translates that experience into actionable advice and thought-provoking analysis.)