Does it matter what people wear to the office?

Does it matter what people wear to the office? You’ve never thought about that question before. When you first started at your architectural firm—more than 40 years ago now—everyone dressed formally. And it wasn’t just to the office; you remember when families dressed to their best to go to the movies, go out to dinner, take an airplane flight. When you look around your office lately, it’s quite a different scene. There are interns wearing T-shirts and jeans and mail clerks wearing flip-flops. There are folks sitting at their desks wearing short and sneakers. Even most of your managers take advantage of the business casual look, preferring polos and khakis to the three-piece suit that you wear every day.

In the past, on most issues, you’ve given the employees whatever they wanted, so long as they produced good work. You always tried to keep them satisfied and happy in order to create a dynamic, creative environment that produced stunning, innovative building designs. You wonder, however, if things have gotten a bit too casual. It seemed okay when men in your office wore a jacket and pants with no tie. But really—a T-shirt and jeans? A sweatshirt? A dress that basically looks like a muumuu? And it seems that the casual clothing has led to a casual atmosphere. Sometimes, you walk into the office, see all the people milling around, chatting, laughing, and it looks more like social hour than a place of business.

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Apparently, other business owners and managers have similar concerns. According to research data, the number of companies that are allowing business casual throughout the week actually fell. Even the number of companies that are allowing casual Fridays fell by 5 percent. UBS, a Swiss bank, is taking thing one step further. Not only did it institute a dress code, it gives every employee a 43-page guidebook that is filled with fashion and grooming tips. The guide even prescribes how employees should apply makeup, how often they should get their hair cut, and how to avoid having bad breath (Hint: no onions or garlic!)

Is it time to make a switch back? True, it’s not as if an architect needs to wear a suit and tie to do her work well. But at the same time, you’d like to remind your employees that the office needs to be more about comfort and fun.

Questions

What are the advantages and disadvantages of having an informal work place? What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a formal work place?
As the manager of this firm, would you institute a formal dress code?

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