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Should we have to wear office clothes when we return?

·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·4-min read
A team meeting in an office
Removing pressure from people to dress a certain way day-to-day allows for a more relaxed working environment, which can work well for both employers and employees. Photo: Getty

After 18 months of joining Zoom meetings in T-shirts and pyjama bottoms, it will come as no surprise that workers aren’t keen to dig out their suits and ties as offices reopen.

According to a poll of more than 500 jobseekers carried out by Randstad in June, 28% of Brits want to get rid of smart-casual or formal office dress codes once they return to the workplace.

Of those surveyed. One fifth were keen on "relaxed" clothing, while 8% wanted dress codes thrown out completely, replacing suits and dresses with shorts and flip flops.

A separate study undertaken by Randstad in the US had similar findings, with a third (33%) of respondents saying they would turn down a job offer or quit their existing job if they were required to wear formal business clothing. Those preferring more casual attire even said they’d be willing to forgo a $5,000 (£3,600) increase in salary to work for a company with an informal dress code.

Depending on the job, there might be limits to what we can reasonably wear to work. Employers may also have policies that set out a standard of dress and appearance for their organisation. But do we really need a strict dress code at work to do our jobs to a high standard? And are there any merits to dressing down for work?

“While there are proven benefits to more smart or formal office dress codes such as enhancing credibility, boosting confidence and visual uniformity, we’ve found that employees tend to associate how they dress with a certain mindset that allows them to work more productively,” says Laurel Dines, HR operations director at Randstad.

“For example, some of our teams hold dress-themed sales days – something we’ve found really boosts productivity, when an element of fun and a central theme is injected into the working day.”

Read more: Why novelty perks won't attract people back to offices

Office dress codes differ by profession, with those in public-facing roles more likely to have smart dress codes. However, the concept of "dress to impress" has been scrapped in the last year as office workers switched to remote working. In the UK, clothing sales fell by 25% in 2020. Those who did buy clothes shunned formal attire in favour of leggings and loungewear.

Despite the old adage of dressing for the job you want, there are actually many benefits linked to relaxed workwear. Casual dress is an inexpensive perk which creates a more approachable culture for employees.

Giving staff a choice to wear what they want can also allow people to be themselves at work, which can pay off for businesses. Research has shown that fostering a culture in which employees can be themselves can be good for business, boosting creativity, productivity and ultimately revenue.

When companies do away with ironed shirts and suits, it puts an emphasis on quality work and creativity, rather than appearance and conformity. A key skill for employees, fostering a creative environment at work allows people to produce new and original ideas and to problem-solve in unique ways. In fact, research has suggested companies that foster creativity are 3.5 times more likely to outperform other firms when it comes to revenue growth.

Removing pressure from people to dress a certain way day-to-day also allows for a more relaxed working environment, which can work well for both employers and employees. Studies show that clients are also more comfortable around more casually dressed employees, which can be conducive to productivity and the success of the company.

Read more: How to stamp out 'digital presenteeism' among remote workers

When working from home, however, workwear can help set mental boundaries between work and leisure to create distance between our personal and professional lives. At the end of a working day, putting your laptop away and getting changed into loungewear can signify that it is time to relax, potentially removing the temptation to continue working into the evening.

In addition, some client-facing jobs may require people to look smart on Zoom calls, even when they’re taking place in the kitchen. For example, it may not be appropriate for a therapist to speak to a client while wearing loungewear.

There is also something to be said for dressing for success. In an interview or an important meeting, dressing smartly can make you look professional and put you in the mindset of a successful work day. However, looking smart doesn’t have to mean donning a suit – a pair of jeans and a T-shirt can be fine. While suits once symbolised professionalism and success, times have changed – and it may work in an employer’s favour to be more lenient when it comes to work attire.

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