September Writer’s Forum Question:
Office environments today have different levels of formality, reflected in varying dress codes. What’s your office dress code? Have you worked in offices with different rules for office attire? Do you think it makes a difference in work output and quality?
Cassandra Smith, Divisional Learning and Development Director for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., in Bensonville, Arkansas, says that the business-casual dress code leaves much open to interpretation. She concludes that many offices let the community establishes the dress code, but she believes that the way employees dress does make a difference:
My answer is how you want people to act is how you should establish the dress code. It seems to me that if you want a very professional attitude, you establish a business dress code. If, however, you want a somewhat carefree, comfortable attitude, then you can have business casual or even casual. I believe there should be the flexibility for professionals to determine the dress code based on…where they represent the office.
Gwen Dickenson, Senior Manufacturing Assistant at Eaton Corporation in Greenwood, South Carolina raises a historical view in her response:
I’ve been in administrative support for 30+ years, and I can remember when the proper attire for the office was suits or dresses for women and coats and ties for men. Then came pantsuits for women, and that was quite an adjustment. Following the pantsuit came “casual” Fridays, which meant on Fridays, men could wear casual slacks and a golf-type shirt. Women could wear more casual outfits.
Today, I work in an environment where it’s “business casual” every day of the week except on Fridays, when we are permitted to wear jeans!
I don’t think the office attire makes a difference in the employee’s output and/or quality of work. However, I do think that the attire leaves a tremendous impression on visitors or customers. If a person works in an environment where he or she is exposed to visitors or customers, then that person should dress more professionally. If we expect VIPs, we raise the bar a notch and dress accordingly.
Finally, we received this practical comment from Gordon Gray, owner of a small print business near Charlotte, North Carolina.
I think it depends on the nature of the job. Our work output is of a very visual nature, so clients see our work in our samples and don’t have to face a business suit to be reassured of the quality they will receive. We encourage our workers to dress comfortably, as long as their clothes are neat and modest. Most of our employees work in the main print room, handling various print jobs or running around town delivering orders and picking up materials, so casual clothing is practical. If our product were less visual, however, and we had to depend more on client perception of us, we would certainly dress differently. As the saying goes, you play to the payer.