Blue Jeans in the Boardroom: When is it Time for a Company Dress Code?

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Apr 11, 2013

Blue jeans in the office? Sneakers in the boardroom?

How much should you tolerate before you start cracking down on your employees’ casual clothing?

The answer, I would argue, is a lot.

In most industries, you don’t select employees based on their good looks or great style. In most industries, you hire the best person for the job, and do everything you can to have them work as hard as they can for as long as they can without burning out.

Casual dress is an easy way to encourage this.

Casual is the way of the future

Eliminating distractions helps people focus on the task at hand, and physical distractions — uncomfortable shoes, jabbing buttons, sweaty jackets — can be the hardest to ignore. Financial distractions are no better, and casual dress helps to reduce those as well.

The money your team saves from not having to buy tailored shirts is more effectively spent on mortgages, children’s dance lessons, or nights on the town.

Most importantly of all, encouraging your employees to identify with your organization best enhances your core HR metrics like retention, engagement, and motivation. Nothing says “this company is a part of me” more than “I can be myself when I’m at work.”

Be careful: Casual can be overdone

Of course, you do need to draw the line somewhere. Only the rarest of companies can get away with pajamas in client meetings. Hiring a team that understands where to draw the line, and building a culture that encourages them to trust their instincts, will keep you from having to implement a formal dress code.

There are benefits to dressing a little less casually, too. When you look professional, you feel professional, and this can show in your work, whether it’s watching your language a little more carefully, or going the extra mile to complete a task on time and on budget.

Finally, keep in mind how your workplace’s dress culture might affect your recruiting and employee diversity initiatives. Might a formal culture be scaring away younger workers? Or could a push to be more casual offend the sensibilities of your company veterans?

It’s all about culture

In the end, as a leader in your organization, it’s your role to make sure that the policies you promote are in the best interests of the business. You need to be careful to manage the competing needs for fresh talent, sustained organizational knowledge, employee engagement, and your marketing and human resources brands.

It all boils down to company culture. Your best case scenario is the development of an open and trusting culture, with a team that understands the needs of your company.

Once you’ve got that, you can abandon the thought of a dress code just like you abandoned last season’s tackiest trends.

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