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Findings From The H.S. Group’s Workplace Dress Code Policies Survey

Finding and retaining employees is one of the top challenges companies are currently facing. To increase competitiveness and attract key talent, organizations are evaluating all aspects of what they offer to employees from compensation and benefits to scheduling and even dress code policy, as we recently learned. The H.S. Group’s survey on Workplace Dress Code Policies provides some insights into these trends.

Here’s what we have learned:

  • The workplace continues to become more casual. The number of survey respondents indicating that their employer has a business casual work environment has increased from 45% to just over 56%. Overall, the number of participants reporting that they have business casual, casual, or a combination of the two has increased from 74% to 85% with the biggest jumps in the categories of business casual and blended dress codes.
  • The number of participants who have a business professional work environment has decreased from 10% to 3%.
  • With the trend becoming a more casual dress code overall, the number of companies offering designated days for casual attire (i.e. Casual Friday) has decreased. Yet, 27% of participants indicated that their company offers days in which they can pay to dress more casually in an effort to raise money for a charitable cause.
  • Only 9% of participants’ workplaces vary the dress code by season.

When it comes to clothing, the lines regarding what is and isn’t appropriate attire for the workplace has continued to be blurred. It used to be so easy. Men dressed in business suits, white shirts, ties, and dress shoes (shined, of course!) for office-based positions. Women wore dresses, skirts, pantsuits, and pantyhose.

That paradigm seems to have gone the way of the dinosaurs, and like the extinction of the dinosaurs, the reasons are numerous and can be complicated. According to a 2017 article in Forbes magazine the reasons can include the influence of the newer, younger tech industry, relaxed social standards, and the transfer of power and decision-making authority to younger generations.

Looking beyond clothing to overall appearance, there seems to be a softening in the acceptability of facial/tongue piercings, gauges, visible tattoos, and/or other unconventional displays, including make-up and hairstyles. The number of participants with employers not allowing unconventional displays has decreased from 37% to 20% with the balance of the companies indicating responses ranging from “allowed” to “varies by position” to “unknown.” Many indicated permissibility varies based on safety/food safety issues as well as the amount and type of customer-facing interactions on the part of the employee.

Societal changes and norms may be contributing to these relaxing appearance standards. A February 2016 Harris Poll survey found that 47% of Millennials and 36% of Gen Xers have at least one tattoo. Those figures compare to 13% of Baby Boomers and 10% of Traditionalists sporting tattoos.

Additionally, when it comes to competing for available talent, only 11% of survey participants feel that the dress code policy is not important to recruiting efforts, while 51% identify it as important and 28% indicate they are neutral. In our own experience as career consultants working with numerous job seekers, we have found that many have an expectation of a relaxed dress code, either business casual or causal, at their new place of employment. While not necessarily the deciding factor, it is often a consideration, especially if the new position would require the individual to purchase a new wardrobe.

Not that long ago, offering either a casual or business casual environment was something a company could do to set itself apart in the competition for talent. In today’s environment, the workforce appears to be looking at it as more of an expectation than an added benefit, so companies may find themselves offering a casual environment not to differentiate themselves, but as a way of keeping up with the competition.