The look and feel of our workplaces are changing. With more firms adopting flexible work policies, many are now adopting more casual dress codes as well. This year, we’ve seen the emergence of the “dress for your day” (DFYD) policy – where employees are allowed to choose what they wear to work each day based on their own schedule.
Here’s how most DFYD policies work: employees are permitted to wear business casual clothing any day of the week on which they plan to work at the office. Business casual in a DFYD policy usually includes nice, dressy jeans without holes or distressed marks. The policies we’ve seen usually do not permit shorts, midriff-baring tops, baseball hats, spaghetti strap tops, leggings or flip flops. On days that a professional has a client meeting, they are expected to dress in accordance with that client’s dress code. Whether the client traditionally wears suits or jeans, the employee would be expected to dress similarly.
We love this policy! Name an easier, more cost-effective way to empower your people in the way they work than by allowing them to have greater control in the way they dress. It’s a definite benefit that progressive firms who have adopted can tout for now, but we expect this type of policy to be the norm soon.
Even though it’s a great people empowerment strategy, some firm leaders may still be hesitant to make the switch to a DFYD policy. In this post, we’ll explore four objections that may be holding you back from moving to a DFYD policy and we’ll identify strategies to address them. That way, you and your team members can experience the morale boost from this great benefit.
The four most common objections include:
- Losing your professional image as a firm and a profession.
This is the most philosophical part of our discussion and an understandable fear. You likely feel great pride in the work that you do and the client relationships you foster. You’re highly regarded for your technical expertise and your ability to problem solve. These abilities do not have to change because of a DFYD policy.
If you look at your clients, their workplaces are changing, too. If you’re dressing in a full suit and your client shows up in jeans and a collared shirt, you’re overdressing for that client. If the client shows up even more casually, you’re lucky they still feel related to you! Your clients want to relate to you and this especially rings true for your NextGen clients. They may feel like you don’t understand their workplace culture or their industry if you’re repeatedly overdressing. Even worse, they may feel like you’re “out of touch” and stuck in the old way of doing things.
There is another contributor to this fear to consider, too. Some studies suggest there may be a correlation between the type of clothing you wear and your productivity and confidence levels (e.g. people feel more fit when wearing workout clothes and more confident and bold when wearing a suit). This is interesting research, however, I don’t think it means that people are more productive in professional dress. In fact, some may be more productive in comfortable clothes like jeans. I don’t believe this fear merits sticking to your firm’s existing, more formal dress code. As long as you’re effectively setting performance measures and expectations, then people will work to meet them – regardless of what they’re wearing.
Explain to your people the importance of professional presence and how you can still achieve that with a loosened dress code. Talk about the various studies available and how greater feelings of personal power, confidence and boldness are correlated with what you choose to wear. Agree on what it looks like to have a crisp, polished image with a more casual dress code. Facilitate discussions about how your people’s clothing choices affect how they feel at work and encourage those who prefer to “dress up” more to continue doing so. The beauty of DFYD is that it simply allows more flexibility for your people to make choices in their workdays.
While there is more research to be done, definitions of business dress will continue to change and so will the expectations of clients. A significant population of public accounting professionals remember the days they wore suits to the office. Therefore, they may still associate the suit with a sense of professionalism in the workplace. As new generations enter the workforce, less people will associate the suit in the same way and will instead associate whatever the current dress style is as appropriate for that profession or industry.
- People will abuse the policy.
Even if you have the most formal dress code policy in place, you are still highly likely to have someone who abuses the policy. When this happens, it’s almost always a result of that individual not being clear on the policy expectations or a difference in judgement about what is and is not acceptable. Rarely is it their true intention to abuse the policy. No matter the root of the issue or the level of formality in the dress code, the misstep should be addressed with a review of the policy and agreed upon next steps.
- It sounds fine for us to dress up when we meet at our clients’ offices, but if a client visits our office, they’ll see our employees who aren’t dressed up, which could make a poor impression!
First, make sure you communicate the policy with all clients when it’s rolled out (announce it as a great new benefit to your people!). Then, consider a few approaches for ongoing communication about the policy. We have one client who keeps a sign at their reception desk letting visitors know about their DFYD policy. Another option is to simply let the client or visitor know when you greet them that your office promotes a DFYD work policy as a benefit to your employees. Most clients won’t care. Those who do may be great candidates to start meeting at their offices going forward.
- We have unexpected meetings emerge – we don’t have time for our employees to go home to change their clothes.
We want you to take people out every time you visit with 3rd parties, but we want you to plan ahead and give your people notice so they can dress and plan appropriately. When there are extenuating circumstances that haven’t allowed you to plan ahead, there are a few options to consider. (1) You can encourage employees to keep a nice change of clothes in their car or an office closet so that they’re always prepared. (2) If your workspace includes private offices and/or cubicles, they can keep the change of clothes at their office area. (3) Some firms have installed lockers or large closets to allow for the storage of dress options for employees. (4) Another great option is to be upfront with the individual(s) you’re meeting. Let them know that your firm promotes a DFYD policy and that you asked your colleague to participate in the meeting at the last minute so they could provide their expertise. They weren’t originally planning to have any client-facing meetings today and that’s why they’re slightly more casual for the meeting. Since many DFYD policies are not allowing truly casual wear, it’s unlikely that the individual’s clothing would be unacceptably out of line. (5) If the colleague had major concern about attending in their more casual attire, another possibility could be for them to call into the meeting or participate virtually through a web conferencing platform.
For some, dress code may seem like a trivial subject. For others, the way they dress is a very personal choice. Like any firm-wide change, it’s helpful to ask for input on the subject from both your existing and future leaders. Once you’ve made the decision and developed your policy, remember to draft your communications plan and how you’ll announce the change internally and externally. Consider creating an internal FAQ document that helps employees address situations like numbers 3 and 4 above. Take the time to do the planning and communicating around the change and you’ll be surprised by how easy the transition will be.
Has your firm made the change to DFYD? If so, what challenges and benefits have you experienced so far? If not, what’s holding your firm back from making the switch or even considering it? We’d love to learn from your experiences!