The millennial dressing code


What did you wear to work today? It’s probably more casual than your parents’ work wear, and worlds different from your grandparents’ office attire. Disappearing are the days of mandatory pantyhose and skirts, suits and ties. According to the Society for Human Resources Management, 83 percent of organizations offer some type of casual dress—40 percent of which allow employees to dress down every day. Even the oldest names in the business, known for sharp suits and ties, are loosening the reigns on dress code.

Tech companies also play a hand in this movement. With employees spending long hours sitting behind computers, comfort is key, and stockings and ties aren’t synonymous with comfort. Since technology is embedded within most industries today, other fields have been following suit

Does success have a dress code? Furthermore, if one wants to be successful nowadays, does that mean you have to look successful by the standards of previous generations? Millennials are redefining what it looks like to be successful, so it may be time for the Millennials business minded people in industry to follow and lead. With millennials forming a majority in the workforce, this change is inevitable.

A rigid dress code could be seriously demotivating for the millennial population walking right out of universities, as many companies now leverage this as an employee engagement practice.

“Informal dress code basically lets the younger generation feel that they can be at  ease, can speak their mind and engage with their seniors, without holding back,” says Vishal Shah, VP-leadership & people’s sciences, Wipro, India. “Gen X is learning from their children and I guess, they are giving way to reason beyond the seasons,” says, SV Nathan, senior director and chief talent officer, Deloitte India.

Besides, the MNCs have played an important role in redefining the work culture. Such reformations have already been experimented upon by other countries.

Opposing the change

There has been rigidity in allowing employees to dress casually to work and there have been valid reasons for the same. One of them was the need to differentiate between work and home. Now with the boundaries blurring between the two, the emphasis is on what works best for employees.

The root also lies in the belief that formal dressing equals ‘professionalism’.

“We were always taught that a good dress sense makes a good impression on others. Over time, this is reinforced and becomes part of a belief, and that belief in action is culture,” opines Nathan.

“With the establishment of local offices of global companies, increased talent mobility and global HR centres of excellence, these practices have now gained ground,” opines Suri.

According to Georgia Beasley, multiple companies in the industry and the feedback varied based on geography, market size, format, and obviously, the company. One industry colleague said they just implemented a casual dress code because it allows for employees to be more comfortable in how they work, which leads to a more positive work environment and culture.

We are currently in an employee-driven market and our industry must be competitive for talent, especially Millennial talent. We’re constantly striving to attract, cultivate, and develop the right talent on our team. Whether it’s more money, working remotely, or even additional vacation time, we typically do whatever it takes once we find the right person for an available position. Of course, everyone wants more money, but the Millennials want perks that enhance workplace culture, such as a more casual dress code. This may be a new tiebreaker for some businesses to use as a benefit.

Companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook, make it clear that one’s business attire does not equate to being an executive or having a certain level of professionalism. If anything, we are now seeing more frequently that it can be off-putting when “the suits” show up to a business and the owner is dressed casually. Companies are now saying what matters most is being professional, not looking professional.

Other industry encourages team to use their judgment because they are their own business. Good sellers are chameleons and capable of adapting to their environment. There can be a hybrid dress code, one for internal and one for external responsibilities. The dress code could even reflect the seller’s list and actually lead to more business. Tattoos and jeans might be fine for a seller who focuses on clubs and more creative-driven agencies. In fact, this could lead to MORE dollars spent because the clients feel comfortable and trust is built.

Keep in mind,  Millennials inherently understand what “too casual” means, so if you’ve made the decision to implement a more casual dress code for all the aforementioned reasons, it’s important that there still be specific guidelines. You might enlist several talented Millennials to assist in laying out these guidelines. Make sure to be more specific about what is unacceptable versus what is acceptable. There are always individuals who push the envelope, but creating some clear guidelines will also be helpful for those workers who just don’t know, regardless of generation. It’s important for companies to make sure that everyone in the organization knows what the actual policy is up front and set a benchmark. It’s up to the employers to educate their employees as to what their interpretation is of the dress code; so while it may exist as a section in their handbook, it’s especially important to share this during the new hire/HR introductory meetings.

Some industries can be casual but that doesn’t mean sloppy. We can be flexible but not overly flexible. A looser, yet professional dress code internally could in fact improve morale. A casual dress code did nothing to negatively impact Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and many others. Millennials gravitate to these types of companies because they allow for authenticity. A less restrictive dress code gives the ability to show personality, which will translate to more confidence in role with the company. Furthermore, if  one encouraged to be authentic selves, trust and loyalty tend to also exist.

People in different industries are getting the draft of the winds of change. It will take time for some of them to make any drastic change. However, one size doesn’t fit all.

Dress code, and many other decisions related to office ergonomics emanate from organisational culture. One of the primary determinants of culture is the industry and nature of work. A formal and an informal dress or a uniform has had to do with the appropriateness of work and identity. One had to wear dungarees or uniforms in manufacturing units for good reasons. Similarly, in the service industry, the formal dress code was to do with a certain identity and ease of recognition.

When it comes to industries, such as media & communication or roles that are not customer or client facing, the culture is more informal, apt to their work style and best suited to their environment. Such an approach may not be relevant at all for the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) as well as the consulting and manufacturing sectors.

“A well-dressed salesman is needed for meeting a doctor in the pharma industry. That is not likely to change so soon, perhaps. Similarly, bankers will see a slower change,” concurs Nathan.

On the other hand, some companies from the IT industry have embraced a more casual work style owing to creative work demands, brainstorming-based environment and a comparatively younger workforce. “Uniformity of practice helps if this heightens the work ethos. If it hinders, we may have to change the practice. Conformity also lends an identity. The IBM Blue was famous a year ago. Even that has changed,” Nathan adds. 

The alternative

While being at extremes may be detrimental, there are certain benefits of some formal practices. For instance, a crisp dress style can be used for impression management — many studies show the link between stiff presentation and perception of intelligence. Similarly, while reporting structures need to be formal enough to avoid violating personal space, they cannot be severely inflexible so as to stifle innovation.

Psychologists are also of the view that an extremely informal dress style can cause employees to feel less productive and focused. This is because the type of clothing can dictate the personality and frame of mind. Depending on whether one is in ‘typical work attire’ or ‘relaxed weekend outfits’, the brain gets instructed to behave in ways consistent with what the clothes symbolize.

Having said that, one thing is for sure, there is change coming along. Even in the executive meeting rooms, it is okay not to wear a tie. A jacket replaces the suit in many meetings. Addressing people by their first names is a matter of culture. And as the younger generation takes over as leaders, we will see more change.

The writer is a Management Consultant | Spint Consult Limited | [email protected]||+233-302-915421

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