Corporate Dress Code? You May Want to Rethink It…

Business casual.  No open-toed shoes. Wear a tie and sport coat if meeting with a client.  Dress code rules reign large at most organizations.  And for the most part, it’s understandable for companies to want their employees to be “dressing the part.”  After all, the employees reflect on the greater reputation of the company, right?  I’m not so sure…..

I’m the father to two teenage daughters  Anyone who’s been directly exposed to teenaged culture (yes, that’s all of you reading this blog…because, you were a part of that culture at one point or another) has witness the individuality expressed by the emerging adult population.  Whether it was tie-dyed t-shirts, bell-bottoms, parachute pants, thrift store bargain buys, sagging or skinny jeans and spaghetti straps, the latest teen fashions are rarely understood or readily accepted by those of us “who’ve been in the real world.”

So, what do we do?  We lay down the law.  “You will not leave this house looking like that!”  We cajole and manipulate. “Well, if you want people thinking you’re a slob….” We roll the eyes and shake our heads.  And what’s the ultimate result of our parental overbearing behavior?  Even when we succeed in getting our teens to change, we’re met with resentment, attitudes, or downright hostility.

Let’s be honest here…whether sitting in a high school or college classroom or plugging away in our corporate cubicle (insert corner office for those executives out there), our productivity levels are closely tied to our attitudes.  When we tell our teenagers to change their clothes, we may alter their outward appearances, but we’ve poisoned their inner sense of individuality, pride, and motivation.  Do we really expect them to perform their best when we’ve squashed their sense of being?

So, how is it any different in the “adult world?”  Oh sure, as I mentioned above, arguments abound that employees’ appearances impact the reputation of the organization.  But think about that for a minute…while I don’t deny that such a case is true at times, isn’t such thinking focused on the wrong result, the process, not the outcome?

Whether as parents or adult leaders, when we allow our own insecurities to shift our focus away from what truly matters (the outcomes…the results), we begin to if not actively undermine the motivations and positive attitudes of our “underlings” to at least stifle their sense of self.  And it’s that creativity and individualism that will lift all our organizations to a higher level.

Anyone who argues individual creativity is a bad thing, doesn’t fully understand human performance or drive.  It’s the engine that propels us individually and as groups forward, what makes the status quo the launching point for greater successes.

When instead of focusing on the appearance or process of achievement, we emphasize results (ethically of course), we free the bonds that tie our children and employees in place.  We hold them then accountable for reaching particular performance levels, but without restricting them to the processes, appearances, and individual actions that we may have chosen as right for ourselves.  But if the results are there (and again, gained through ethical and moral methods), be they good grades, healthy and happy relationships, new product designs, or sales figures, isn’t that what’s most important?

And in the end, if our children are happy, healthy, and successful (by their own definition, not ours as parents), and if our employees are engaged, productive, and producing, isn’t that ultimately why we originally focused on what they were wearing?  I may personally chose to wear a three-piece suit to a sales call, where someone else may wear jeans and a t-shirt.  And while we may all have our own perceptions about which will be more effective, what matters is not our perceptions, but the actual results.  If my t-shirt clad colleague lands the sales consistently, and I do not, either 1) I’m not cut out for a career in sales, or 2) perhaps I should change something about my approach, which may include my appearance.

So, stop your focus on appearance.  Focus instead on results.  Hold your people accountable.  Release your own inner “control freak,” and watch their inner drive, creativity, and individualism push you to higher results!

2 thoughts on “Corporate Dress Code? You May Want to Rethink It…

  1. Good post Trevor. I agree with the points with our children, my rule was that you must be modest, which was challenged by my daughter. They had Mohawks, shaved heads, pink, green and blue hair. They got good grades and had wonderful friends. They have grown into fine adults.

    For the work place….I think it would depend on what type of work you do. I am in the medical field. My doctor and staff need to wear clean, pressed scrubs with neat hair, this is the protocol. I do not think that patients would think too highly of coming into the office with the young women wearing skinny jeans and a tube top. Maybe there are some types of business that this would be ok. My daughter works in manufacturing, she can wear shorts and a t-shirt to work as she is just seen by co-workers.

    So I think there times when dress code does not matter and then times when it matters a lot. Great topic Trevor, have a great Sunday

  2. Great points, Tina. There are certainly times when safety precautions must dictate things such as attire, sanitary practices, etc. However, while some patients may not think it appropriate for a health care provider to attend to them in skinny jeans and a tube top, if the focus remains on outcomes (which may include customer service perspectives and reactions), then I think appearances are best driven by individual preference. For example, if a doctor or nurse’s appearance was off-putting to patients, and patient reactions were incorporated into performance appraisal and reward structures, doctors or nurses would likely adjust their own appearances to best drive their own success. If they didn’t adjust on their own, it would be reflected in their ability to make a living through interacting with patients. Again, appearance takes care of itself in the long-run when accountability is on results, I think.

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