Workplace Casual: Are We Taking It Too Far?

Casual Fridays, Blue Jean Wednesdays and T-shirt Tuesdays are all ways that organizations have fashioned more casual atmospheres in the workplace over the last 20 years. Leaders in these organizations went along with these ideas so that employees could be more comfortable in the workplace. But how comfortable should an employee be? Is it realistic and professional to let your employees be so comfortable that they can wear a hoodie to work?

The word “hoodie” sparked all kinds of controversy recently when Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook sported a very casual look by wearing one while visiting Wall Street. Accusations flew that he was not being a professional liaison and did not take his meeting with potential investors seriously.

Zuckerberg is also the CEO who donned a tie every day in 2009. “After the start of the recession in 2008, I wanted to signal to everyone at Facebook that this was a serious year for us,” he wrote. “Great companies thrive by investing more heavily while everyone else is cutting back during a recession. But great companies also make sure they’re financially strong and sustainable. My tie was the symbol of how serious and important a year this was, and I wore it every day to show this.”

We work with a client who has a very large call center. Most would suspect that the dress code would be relatively casual. Not so. In this organization, women must wear pants or a skirt with a jacket or sweater and closed-toe shoes. Men must wear dress shirts and tailored trousers with dress shoes.

What is the reason for such professional attire? Our client feels that this call center is the starting point to launch a career. And this is the dress code for everyone in the organization. If you want to work there, you must adapt to the dress code. Is this too extreme? Individuals of different generations may differ in their response.

A colleague recently spoke at an event with a number of professionals in attendance, and the dress code ranged from casual jeans to traditional suits. Two people walked in the door and he not only immediately noticed them but he was drawn to them. Why? Both were immaculately dressed. They looked like high-powered professionals who had command and authority.

So as more and more millennials enter the workforce with certain expectations for how they can and should dress, how far should employers stretch the workplace dress code?