How much does a dress code at work really affect your performance? I’m sure if everybody wore bright psychedelic shirts and dressed up like multi-coloured peacocks, it might be quite difficult to concentrate. But is there really a difference between being fully suited up and just being smart-casual? (Shirt and pants… tie optional)


I can attest that during high school having “own clothes day” probably reduced the amount of work that students would normally do, but this was to be expected. After all, days like these were associated with things like red nose day and the end of term, so not much work was to be expected anyway. Besides, this is immature high school kids we’re talking about here, not people who are holding down a job.


Dress code differs greatly from one workplace to the next. From being so strict that hemlines are measured, to telling employees, “You can wear anything, as long as you wear something,” companies certainly seem to be in disagreement over how workplace attire affects productivity.


Some would say that allowing casual attire implies that they allow a casual attitude, which results in a casual (lazy) work ethic. The other side argues that as employees are allowed to dress more comfortably, their confidence – and therefore their productivity – will increase. As long as “more comfortably” doesn’t mean “wear your trackie-bottoms or hell even your pyjamas if you so desire”, then I think it’s safe to say I would agree with the latter.


In my opinion you’re more likely to just get on with work if you’re not shuffling in your chair contemplating how uncomfortable and hot you are feeling, wearing something that you really don’t want to wear. It could even have the effect of making you hold a small grudge towards your employer (even if it’s subconsciously) which can only be anti-productive.


Again I’m going back to high school here with my next point (I know I said before it’s different being in high school than it is to working and we’ve obviously grown up a bit but I think the point is still valid). In years 7- 10 our uniform was shirt, tie, jumper and pants. There were no strict rules on wearing a blazer and being caught with your shirt not tucked in barely resulted with any disciplining (unless you came across Mrs Johnson the French teacher, then you would feel her wrath… But that wrath would be felt any time and for any reason.  It seemed her mission in life having something to shout at kids for…… I digress.)


The school wasn’t particularly bad, and most students were well behaved.  The ones that weren’t definitely weren’t causing trouble because of the “relaxed attitude” towards uniform. In year 11 however, this all changed due to us getting a new Head Teacher. It went from being all black with a green tie (yuck!) to being purple, grey and green (extra yuck!) Read that back… yes it was that disgusting. But anyway, with this came a whole new set of rules in regards to the uniform. Blazers had to be worn at ALL times, to the point where it was ridiculous, detentions were being handed out left right and centre for students taking them off, even when it was getting really warm.


Now let’s think about this logically. The point of enforcing this uniform rule was to promote a higher work ethic. Something that’s pretty much not going to happen,  when you’re so warm you can barely see your work in front of you through the haze that has overcome your vision due to dizziness. It got to the point where some students were rebelling and detentions were flying about all over the place and there was even one expulsion that stemmed from this. An assembly was even held about it.


The point is, having a really strict uniform backfired and the work ethic was not raised at all but instead dramatically decreased.


It also depends entirely where you work and what your profession is.


If you are an employer and you are debating on how strict the dress code should be, consider this: Who are your customers? How often do you interact with them at your premises?


Is it essential that they always view you as strictly professional? If so, reducing the rigorousness of the dress code is probably not the solution you’re looking for. Do you connect with customers exclusively on a business level, or do your interactions have a tendency to become more informal? If you relate to your customers in a business-only fashion, then your dress code should reflect that. Just keep in mind that many customers will judge a business’s productivity based solely on its level of professionalism.  On the other hand in a creative environment, suit and tie doesn’t necessarily reflect the right image either.


As sexy as I look in a suit, my opinion is that smart-casual is the way to go. It’s not lax enough that nobody takes the job seriously, but it still looks smart and professional whist remaining a little more  comfortable.


What’s your take on it?

Tom Duffy