This Week's Herman Trend Alert

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  The Herman Trend Alert

October 1, 2003

Casual Dress Going Global

The American trend to dress---and act---more casually, more informally, in the workplace is gaining popularity around the world. While there are still many companies that expect employees to wear starched collars, business suits, and high heeled shoes, employers in other countries---notably European sectors known for their adherence to formality and protocol---are discovering measurable benefits to relaxing their dress codes.

Recent research by the Bank of Scotland discovered that a significant number of employers now operate with "dress down" policies. The United Kingdom-wide survey also discovered a third of small businesses with a newly introduced dress-down survey believed it has boosted productivity. Bank of Scotland researchers contacted 1,000 businesses across the UK and found that 20 percent of manufacturing companies and 27 percent of professional firms have dress down policies.

Improvements have been seen in all sizes of enterprises. The message is that people are happier when they are not required to wear formal attire, and that a happier workforce is a more productive workforce.

Around 23 percent of firms in the UK headed by women have more relaxed dress codes compared with 18 percent of firms managed by men, the study reported. This measure suggests that employees of firms headed by women may be happier in the broadest sense, driving productivity, workforce stability, and total performance. Perhaps we are seeing another indicator of the more sensitive leadership skills being attributed to women in senior positions, creating corporate cultures that are more congruent with what is desired by today's workers.

Our mode of dress has moved away from stereotypes that were prevalent for so long. It is now impossible to judge a person by his or her dress. An Indian man going to work in sandals and un-tucked short-sleeved shirt could well be a call-center worker or the richest textile merchant in Bombay (now called Mumbai).

Dress protocols often conflict with community culture. The trend today is to move to more individuality. People who have the courage to dress uniquely, also have the self-confidence to venture into new businesses, new ways of accomplishing work, new relationships.


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