A nationally representative study* of 2,000 UK adults has revealed that strict workplace dress codes are damaging morale, driving away young talent and making people want to quit their jobs.
The study was conducted by fashion discovery website Style Compare.
- 18% of people aged 18-24 have considered quitting their job over the employer’s dress code.
- 12% of UK adults on the whole have considered quitting. Men are slightly more likely to quit than women (14% men v 10% women).
- 92% of the UK’s 18-24-year-old workforce are subject to some sort of dress code
- 70% of 18-24-year-olds see no benefit to dress codes at all
- 20% of 18-24-year-olds will avoid companies and industries that have strict dress codes
- Insurance sector has the strictest dress codes
- Publishing and journalism has the most relaxed dress codes
- Occupational health expert Professor Sir Cary Cooper says dress codes have the potential to discriminate against everyone, while offering no obvious benefits. He also believes that if dress codes did improve productivity, there would be no ‘dress down Friday’
Who wears what to work?
|Dress code type||Description||Women||Men|
|Business||Dark suits, ties for men. Smart business wear for women. Grooming guidance given as part of dress code.||7.04%||10.16%|
|Relaxed business||Suits and ties recommended for men, but not mandatory. No jeans. No specific guidance for women.||32.84%||29.04%|
|Smart casual||Smart jeans permitted, casual shoes, knitwear permitted.||19.79%||18.45%|
|Casual||No items of clothing specified, but ripped jeans, trainers, sportswear not permitted.||13.20%||13.02%|
|No dress code||Anything goes. Employees explicitly told they can wear what they want.||15.10%||17.45%|
|Undefined||No guidance on what to wear at all.||12.02%||11.87%|
Attitudes by age
Negative attitudes to dress codes are strongest among younger people, who generally disapprove of workplace dress codes and tend to avoid businesses and entire industries because of them.
|Have you considered quitting your job because of the dress code?||18-24||25-34||35-44||45-54||55+|
|Did the possibility of being subject to a strict dress code influence your choice of career?||18-24||25-34||35-44||45-54||55+|
The national study of 2,000 UK adults also found that 61% of the workforce receive no positive impact at all from office dress codes. That figure is 70% among 18-24-year-olds.
Almost half (45%) of the UK’s workforce say they’d work just as well without the enforcement of a dress code and one in ten (11%) say they’d actually work better and be happier at work without a dress code. This figure rises to 15% for 18-24-year-olds.
Impact by sector
Different sectors and job types have different issues with the concept of dress codes.
32% of people who work in call centres have considered quitting because of their employer’s rules on clothing, the highest of any job type in the study.
The science and pharmaceuticals sector is at risk of losing talent due to dress codes too. 31% of workers in that sector say they’ve considered quitting their job because of them. The figure is 29% among I.T workers.
People working in the media and online sector are equally unhappy at being told what to wear, but are less likely to quit their job over it.
27% working in that sector said they’d be happier if their employer just relaxed their dress code.
The insurance sector is the strictest when it comes to employee dress, with 28% of workers subject to the strictest type of dress code.
Publishing and journalism has the most relaxed approach, with 67% of workers saying they can wear what they like.
Professor Sir Cary Cooper, CBE, an occupational health expert, believes the disadvantages of enforcing a dress code far outweigh any possible benefits:
“Office dress codes can and often do discriminate against women, men, disabled people and gender nonconforming people. They cause anxiety, discomfort and ultimately – as the research suggests – they can make people want to leave their job. All of this for negligible, if any, benefit to the employer.
“Strict policies have only persisted so far due to the attitudes of senior leadership, who grew up with the idea that wearing a suit and tie to work was the only way. There’s scant evidence that dress codes have a positive impact on well-being, productivity or perceptions of an organisation.
“If dress codes did have a meaningful impact on productivity, why sacrifice productivity 20% of the year with dress down Friday?”
“Organisations should trust people to dress how they please. If someone is smart enough to do the job, they’re most likely smart enough to dress appropriately without being told what to wear.”
Jonny Challenger, founder of Style Compare, urges business to examine why they have dress codes in the first place.
“As our study shows, the vast majority of adults see little benefit in office dress codes and many resent being told how to dress. People will tolerate resentment for as long as they have no choice, but as the data shows, when people do have a choice, they often choose to work elsewhere.
“Companies and even entire industries are alienating people due to outdated notions of what is appropriate for work.
“The big problem is that we’re afraid to challenge the definition of what ‘smart’ actually is.
“People dress to express themselves and organisations should embrace that. If you trust someone enough to manage your company’s databases or to speak to your customers, surely you must trust them enough to dress appropriately.
“Organisations that still feel the need to impose restrictions on how their people dress are actually signalling that they don’t trust them to make appropriate choices. Forcing people to conform to a narrow definition of what is ‘smart’ excludes entire styles and cultures, limiting the talent pool and restricting people’s career opportunities.”