The Low-Down On Dressing-Down

By Judith Rasband

Contrary to popular belief, dress-down days in the workplace will not boost productivity nor employee morale, reports Dr. Jeffrey L. Magee, consulting research psychologist.

500 firms, from small business (100 employees and more) and Fortune 500 companies to association audiences were surveyed. The survey was conducted from the Third Quarter 1997 through the Third Quarter 1998. Data was collected during on-site consultations, focus groups, and training workshops, through teleconference calls, and direct mail survey letters. Respondents were primarily through Human Resources, Personnel, Vice President of Operations, Presidents, and CEOs.

Business Dress Code: Image Consultant Teenage Grunge

As predicted in the 1995 publication "America's Going Down The Tube In A T-Shirt", continually relaxed dress leads to relaxed manners, relaxed morals, relaxed productivity, and loss of individuality. Magee's research findings reveal specifics:

  • Decrease in ethical behavior.
  • Decrease in polite, mannerly behavior.
  • Increase in gutter language and conversation.
  • Decrease in morality.
  • Increase in provocative actions.
  • Decrease in productivity and overall quality of work.
  • Decrease in commitment and company loyalty.
  • Increase in complaints to HR.
  • Increase in litigation.
  • Increase in tardiness.

The professional image and attitude needed by 80% in the marketplace is lost.

People push a casual dress policy to extreme limits of acceptability. Complaints increase regarding hygiene problems and exposed body areas (arm pits, midriffs, feet), adding up to attention diverted from business issues to behavior issues.

People push the lines of acceptable actions once a casual dress policy has been introduced. Clothes considered acceptable for "bar hopping" and/or "dance clubs" as well as clothing with "offensive sayings" imprinted on them are worn by employees–thus adding to the increase in comments, conversations, gestures, provocative actions, and harassment considered to be offensive. Tension among personnel and complaints (official and unofficial) have risen. All of which takes the attention and focus off of what employees are being hired and paid to do.

Cliques, tardiness, late from breaks and lunch, early departures or closing down lines of production early in an attempt to leave on time are more of a concern in recent years since casual dress. Productivity and quality of work is an area of great concern from respondents as well as management.

Respondents felt that people are not as focused, committed, or as loyal to their job, their teammates or employers as before. The more the environment relaxed, the more employees wanted, contributing to an over-all impression of "Me–ism" which actually worked against the concept of "teams."

Overall, the more relaxed the dress code in extrovert environments, the higher the level of concern was by HR as to less professionalism and productivity in the workplace. And, the higher the level of complaint was by customers or individuals that come into contact with them from the outside world. The more introvert the environment, the less the concern on some issues.

Research in psychology, sociology, family and consumer science shows a direct correlation between how one dresses and how one thinks, feels, and acts or behaves, and how others react or respond. The clothing communicates to the individual as well as to others. The clothing can work for us or, as we see from these research results, it can work against us. Casual clothing in the workplace can work only if the environment is structured with appropriate limits on the definition of "business casual" dress, and the message it conveys to both self and others.



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