The days of power dressing in the office appear to be long gone, and individual quirky style is being encouraged. We asked a number of leading businesses about their approach to the work wardrobe – and the effect on staff performance and productivity
Rebecca Morris – Operations Manager at Benchmark
At our recruitment agency we are witnessing office dress codes across Sheffield becoming more informal and it seems employees are enjoying the wardrobe change.
The IT and Digital sectors are particularly switched on to a more informal dress code and, whether it’s an internal or external meeting, it is the norm for jeans and t-shirts – there are even reports of shorts! This relaxed approach has a synergy with the industry and isn’t new to the trade and perhaps is where the seeds have been sown for other industries to follow suit.
A key concern for some organisations is the impact on productivity and ensuring professional standards don’t slip, and a more relaxed attire doesn’t equal a more relaxed approach to work. From speaking to clients who have embraced the change this does not seem to be the case – if anything it is more inclusive, and people feel more comfortable to express themselves and knuckle down to work.
If there is a nervousness around creating a more relaxed approach to office wear, trying out ‘dress down Fridays’ is a perfect way to see its impact on behaviours. Even include your work force and ask them if it is something they would like to embrace.
Naturally there are occasions when clients and external meetings may command a smarter dress code, in which case some organisations are encouraging employees to ‘dress for your diary’. Most days it is possible to pre-empt meetings, but a word of warning always be prepared – if you are in a business which may mean an impromptu meeting with a client, having a back up outfit stored at work could save you.
Traditionally people are told to ‘dress to impress’ at interview but we are now hearing accounts that this is a turn-off to certain employers. We know of job seekers attending interviews who have been suited and booted in smart attire and this has resulted in the opposite effect of actually putting off a potential employer.
Emma Hibbert – Adviser in the People and Culture team at Gripple
This year Gripple, the Sheffield-based manufacturer of the iconic wire fastener, is celebrating its 30th birthday and special branded garments are being offered to staff to mark this impressive milestone in our company’s history.
For many years most of Gripple staff across the globe, most recently also in Japan, have been happy to sport the branded garments provided, although it is not obligatory. Whether it be a crisp white shirt in the office areas or a dark blue polo shirt on the factory floor there is pride in the success of the celebrated Gripple, which has become a ‘household’ name, certainly in Sheffield with its four bases, where there are approximately 250 employees of the company’s worldwide total of almost 700.
As a fully employee-owned, multi award-winning company it is hardly surprising that Gripple’s shareholder members – the employees (pictured) – are happy to wear Gripple garments whether client facing, in important meetings or on television!
They want as much brand exposure as possible not only for the company’s benefit but also for their own. There is freedom in wearing branded garments whether to arrive at work every day or on the days they choose but all wearing them all day.
Wearing branded clothes helps staff to share Gripple’s values, unique culture, innovation and to be passionate team players willing to challenge convention, all vital to the company’s sustained growth which is driven by its people. Gripple has no HR department, rather a People and Culture team.
In 2011, GLIDE – Growth Led Innovation Driven Employee Company Limited – was formed to provide a ‘voice’ for all the shareholder members. Members of GLIDE’s board are elected by their fellow shareholders to preserve and develop people culture – to look after the interests of its members.
Effective training for all and fun have always been fundamental to Gripple’s continued success. GLIDE House is a training academy and a social club especially for staff with a bar, café and a gymnasium and for social and sports events including a sport day and quiz nights. It is also popular with outside companies for training events.
When chairman, Hugh Facey received his OBE last year he thanked not only The Queen but also his ‘brilliant employees’ for their hard work and commitment over the years. He said: “Look after the people and the business will look after itself.”
Presently, in the Gripple UK companies, about 115 members of staff have served 10 years or more.
Louise Allen – Head of HR at BHP Chartered Accountants
At BHP, long gone are the days of restrictive ‘smart work wear’ – it just doesn’t fit our company values anymore – we believe that employee fulfilment is at the heart of making our firm’s success – and giving our colleagues freedom in what they wear contributes to this.
We pride ourselves in promoting positive workplace culture, and trust that if we invest in our people, and support each other, we will create a successful, person-centred place to work. By implementing a ‘Dress for your Diary’ policy people can now adapt what they wear according to their schedule.
After speaking to our colleagues and listening to their feedback, they told us that they would feel happier to have more freedom in what they wear to work.
There was a time when every professional, in any industry – especially accountancy, would put a suit on every morning but this just doesn’t sit with us anymore.
People are more productive, and are happier, when they feel comfortable in the office and our relaxed approach allows people to make an informed decision and adapt their workwear depending on the occasion.
So, if a colleague is going to a client meeting, they may need to go for a smarter look, however, if they are in the office all day – they can adapt to a more casual style. We don’t want people to feel restricted to conforming to a typical ‘smart’ dress attire – when, simply, this is just not comfortable for everyone.
We trust our staff, and because we create a positive environment, we want to reflect that in the way of freedom around workwear.
People are at the heart of our business, and enabling them to focus on what is important, contributes to what makes us so successful. We are proud of our values, and believe our positive environment is what has helped us rank as one of the ‘Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For.’
Katy Hinton – Head of Operations at Razor
Tech, like fashion, is ever evolving, and we’ve entered an era where getting dressed for work no longer means ‘dressing up’. More relaxed dress codes have long been the norm for many tech companies, who have waved goodbye to suits and A-line skirts, welcoming polo shirts and jeans in their place.
At Razor, we don’t have a strict dress code, we firmly believe that people work better if they are comfortable, and as a result, a relaxed work environment is ingrained in our culture.
Workplace style for us varies on a day-to-day and individual basis. We don’t have a strict rule on what people can and cannot wear, our only rule is that employees dress for their day. With our broad and diverse client base, we want to ensure our clients feel comfortable and confident with our teams, so encourage them to be respectful of others in their clothing choices and trust our teams to dress appropriately depending on what job they are doing that day or week.
Essentially, we want to ensure we promote a positive and professional image, whilst respecting the needs of our employees no matter what culture, religion or background they come from. We work to ensure any adjustments are made that may be required because of disability and consider health and safety.
For some team members, it can be an organisational culture shift, but it’s one that has contributed to our success as we find that when our team is more at-ease, they bring incredibly innovative ideas to the table.
Tim Elgar – Head of Culture and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Twinkl
Founded in Sheffield in 2010, Twinkl is an online educational publisher that creates resources used by educators across the world. Our mission is ‘To help those who teach’, a goal we achieve by being a disruptive innovator – meaning we constantly ask questions and try doing things differently to support educators and the Twinkl team in the best way possible.
Our approach to office culture is different, too. Our CEO, Jonathan Seaton, has always ensured Twinkl has a completely open plan office, full of different spaces and plant life, and colleagues can wear what they feel comfortable in.
We have always had a ‘dress for your diary’ approach as it creates a familiar and open environment, where people feel empowered to be and express themselves. It reflects the friendly and vibrant culture we have at Twinkl, and feeling comfortable and happy helps encourage innovative ideas within all departments.
As Twinkl is a digital publisher, with members in more than 197 countries, we predominantly don’t have visual contact with our customers and instead mostly speak to them on the phone or online. In situations where team members will be seen by our customers at events, for example, they are encouraged to wear what they and the team consider appropriate. There is still no strict dress code – we just want colleagues to feel comfortable and at ease, wherever they may be.
If you give employees freedom of choice to wear what they like, they often will feel that they have more control over their environment and an increased sense of belonging, which increases team members’ wellbeing and productivity.
A few months ago, we asked Fuschia Sirois, a Reader in Social and Health Psychology at the Department of Psychology, the University of Sheffield to conduct an internal survey about different aspects of the office culture at Twinkl. She found 80 per cent of team members highly ‘valued the relaxed dress code’ and that it was an ‘unexpected perk of the job’, which validates what we have been doing since 2010.
Here at Twinkl, we believe that workplace dress is a good step in building a positive culture and ensures that the business is flexible, comfortable and collaborative, all translating into a happy team and the best for our customers.