Can formality affect productivity?

Posted 15/7/2019 by Jane Gibb

Do your staff get to wear their own clothes to work? Can they chat through the day, or are they encouraged to stay quiet? Can they take a quick five minute break or two to relax, or are they chained to their desk all day?

If you’ve built a company culture that rewards people for getting the best results, it seems unfair to insist that everyone works in the same way if some may perform better when their behaviour and environment isn’t controlled too rigidly.

A more relaxed culture may be what is needed to get the best out of staff. With incentives encouraging staff to perform, rather than rules and regulations keeping them in line, a little more freedom can be a wonderful thing.


How did dress down start?

The concept first originated in Hawaii in the mid-1960s, when the state’s Fashion Guild devised ‘Aloha Friday’. Employers were encouraged to allow their staff to wear Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops on a Friday in a bid to boost sales of the loud, but undeniably comfortable shirt. It crossed to the US mainland – primarily California – in the 1990s with the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley where Hawaiian shirts were replaced with khakis, chinos, jeans, and t-shirts. Globalisation took care of extending the habit worldwide as an inexpensive way to boost staff morale.

Now, a permanent ‘business casual’ dress code is a given in all but the most traditional sectors like finance or law. Even British MPs have been allowed to ditch their ties in Parliament (despite a public outcry). The prevalence of flexible working arrangements, co-working spaces and company cultures built on innovation call for clothing that reflects creativity and individuality. Furthermore, the flattening of organisational structures has led to CEOs donning jeans and a t-shirt (e.g Mark Zuckerberg) in favour of wearing a more expensive suit than their staff to denote authority and success.

But it’s not just the dress code that is becoming more casual in the workplace. Attitudes are relaxing across the board in many workplaces, shown in the 1.5 million people choosing to work from home on a more flexible basis, and the fun of free food, table football and informal breakout spaces that dominate the public perception of trendy tech firms.


The benefits of going casual

A more casual dress code can have a real impact on a workforce. One that should absolutely be considered is the reduction in financial strain on employees. Research has found that employees spend an average of £104 per year on work clothes, while other, more sensationalist research estimates that this figure could be in the thousands for some.

It’s also good for morale if employees are comfortable and more relaxed – and aren’t feeling like they’re being judged on their appearance. A positive workplace culture that preaches self-expression, employee engagement and individuality is also greatly undermined if everyone has to wear a suit!

But a casual culture goes far beyond a dress code – and there are benefits to a more relaxed approach all around. While bosses don’t quite have to play the role of the entertainer, the trust and freedom that comes with relaxing the rules can be a great motivator – and the key to attracting a new generation of talent.

For example, as many as 14 million workers in the UK are crying out for flexible hours or the ability to work from home, rather than clocking in at nine and out again at five, with a supervisor breathing down their neck.

Research has also found that worker autonomy – when employees can make choices, and be held accountable for their decisions – can lead to greater productivity, workplace satisfaction, or both. However, despite this, some employers still insist upon greater monitoring, discipline and control of their employees – which is frustrating, infantilising, and leads to feelings of loss of identity.


At Net Talent, we embrace flexible working and encourage our team to dress for their day, not to a dress code. We’ve seen a positive shift in moral, attitude and we're advocates of treating our staff with respect, trusting them to perform to the best of their ability – without restriction.




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