Is Your Dress Code Killing Your Culture?


I grew up outside of New York in the eighties. I got my first tattoo as I was graduating from college in the mid nineties. It was a tiny little tattoo just above my ankle bone. My mom freaked out. She made me promise then and there that I would never get a tattoo that would compromise my ability to get a job. Now, over twenty years later, my tattoo guy is just about my longest standing relationship. And even though I now call the west coast my home, I’ve stuck by my promise.

That said, as I moved west, and progressed through my career, the need to wear a tie decreased, as did the need to even wear long sleeves! My tattoos started to show more and more, and I got more interested in how dress codes reflect organizational values. So what are companies doing for dress codes these days? PayScale did a survey of dress codes across the U.S. and the results were pretty interesting.

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Here are the top three takeaways for businesses:

Companies are relaxing their dress codes, sort of

The business formal work environment may be a dying breed. Is your workplace a business formal environment? And if so, does that fit your organizational culture? Does your dress code prevent you from getting your top talent? Maybe these fresh stats can help you determine the right dress code fit for your culture:

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  • Most respondents reported working in a business casual workplace (42 percent).
  • Just six percent work in a business formal work environment.
  • “The Zuckerberg,” aka casual within reason, came in second (34 percent).

Where you work matters

Anyone who has gone to a “business casual” meeting on the east coast knows that east coast business casual is not the same as west coast business casual. What are the norms for dress in the east and the west?

  • West coast states are least likely to have a dress code.
  • East coast states are more likely to hang on to business formal dress codes.

Dress codes vary by industry

Your organization’s primary function also plays into whether or not a dress code is likely.

  • Medical and healthcare industries are most likely to have uniform requirements, especially veterinary services who top the list at 78 percent.
  • Financial services industries are very likely to have business formal dress codes, as are law and real estate offices.

At the end of the day it’s about alignment and making sure you are reflecting your culture and business needs with your dress code. Back to the original question: tattoos. Times are changing; now even our local coffee chain allows visible tattoos. That said, visible tattoos were within the top five of the most commonly discouraged body art/aspects of appearance category (64 percent). Guess I’m glad I listened to mom. Isn’t that what they say? Mom’s always right?

What dress code challenges have gotten in the way of your talent strategy? We want to know, in the comments section below.

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