Suits and ties go the way of the bowler hat…

Office workers are ditching their suits and ties for a more relaxed look, according to a study by Personnel Today’s sister publication, Employment Review.

A survey covering 68 employee dress codes found that one in five (21%) stipulated formal business dress, while one-third (38%) said staff should wear ‘smart casual’ clothes. A smaller number (5%) had guidelines best described as ‘relaxed’.

The remaining one in three dress codes (36%) set out rules for groups of workers required to wear uniforms or overalls to carry out their jobs.

Employment Review has tracked a steady decline in business dress in recent years, but other reports suggest the UK is not alone in this.

Earlier this month, Italian energy company Eni said it was aiming to reduce its carbon footprint by banning jackets and ties in the summer so it could turn down the office air conditioning. And the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, also appeared tie-less in a short-sleeved shirt to make a keynote speech to set an example for office workers.

One problem for employers who want to ditch the traditional suit and tie without provoking an outbreak of beachwear and bare midriffs is to define ‘smart casual’.

The survey found that respondents either opted for general descriptions of appropriate dress as ‘professional, clean and tidy’ or listed banned items such jeans, shorts and flip-flops along with approved items such as chinos and polo shirts.

…as employers strive for relaxed image

Workplace dress codes are more about image and culture than health and safety or other practical reasons, the Employment Review survey suggests.

Three out of four employers (75%) said their policies were intended to enhance the organisation’s image in the wider world, while more than half (53%) wanted to enhance internal company culture.

Just under half (49%) had dress codes for health and safety reasons, while only one in five (19%) of the 68 organisations taking part in the survey were concerned about hygiene.

The study also investigated the reasons why a smaller group of 23 organisations did not operate a dress code.

Of these, 15 said staff already dressed appropriately without rules, while 13 said their relaxed organisational culture made guidelines unnecessary. Six organisations thought it would be too difficult to police the rules, while three had already tried and failed.

One organisation said it feared a discrimination claim if it tried to enforce dress rules.

…and some days it is even more laid back

Just one of the organisations with a dress code claimed that it never relaxed the rules under any circumstances.

The rest were likely to let people dress as they liked on ‘dress-down days’ (63%), depending on the activities being undertaken (57%), or on special charity days (57%).

Rules could also be relaxed for medical reasons (43%), in unusually hot or cold weather (43%), or to take account of an employee’s religious beliefs (37%).

Only one organisation taking part in the survey had ever had a complaint that its dress code was discriminatory.

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