We as human beings are not as advanced or even as complex as we think we are. You can draw simple conclusions about people based on very basic diagnostics. If a woman is walking on the high street with her kids and she has dark rings around her eyes, you can surmise that she is probably struggling a little as a mother. If a man has thick yellow tobacco stains on two figures, you can guess he probably isn’t a fitness instructor. How productive a person is and how easily they are influenced by their surroundings is just as basic and non-complex.
A Simple Example That Is Basic And Non-Complex
When was the last time you saw a person in a suit slumped against a bus shelter scratching his or her name into the plastic with a sharpened penny? When was the last time you saw a suited person sat beside a park bench in the dust, feeding Monster Munch to a dog?
How we dress influences how we act. Put on a pair of wellies, and you are more likely to splash in the puddles. Put on an evening gown or Tuxedo, and you are more likely to walk upright and proud. You wouldn’t be caught wiping your nose on your sleeve, or dabbing crumbs from your mouth with your evening gown material. You wouldn’t do it because of what you were wearing.
Does What We Wear Always Affect Our Behaviour?
If you have ever been out on Halloween and seen middle-aged men dressed as the Avengers, then you wouldn’t need to read the rest of this paragraph. Even based on simple observations, such as the many listed above, it is obvious that what people wear affects how they act, how they talk, and even how they conduct themselves around other people. Put on a posh suit, and it is far easier to look down on waiters than it is if you wear jogging bottoms and a football top.
The key phrase is does it “always” affect how people behave, and the obvious answer is “no.” But, it does affect and/or influence how most people behave most of the time, and that is why companies implement dress code policies. It stands to reason that if you are dressed for work, then you are more likely to work. If you are dressed for dancing, then you are more likely to dance.
An Inclusive Work Environment Is A Big Issue
One could quote a section of a “Society for Human Resource Management” publication about how an inclusive work environment may help make employees happier and more productive, but the best evidence comes from reports on school uniforms.
In the UK, most schools have a dress code that consists of a school uniform. One of the many reasons for this is because having the students wear uniforms makes them more productive, and part of the reason they become more productive is because they feel included. Their basic need for social and group inclusion is fulfilled with an external gesture (a uniform).
As a business, you may not be able to instigate a uniform dress code without significant expense and trouble, but you can instigate a dress code. Instead of trying to create a culture of inclusiveness with a uniform, you can create it with your business workplace culture. With your dress code, you can help stop people excluding themselves.
Stopping People Excluding Themselves From The Group
According to the book “The Psychology of the Physical Environment in Offices and Factories,” the lack of a dress code and office/workplace décor rules will allow people to exclude themselves from the team and from the group. This will break the cohesive nature of an inclusive workplace. A dress code stops extreme and semi-extreme attire that may make it difficult for some people to work with others. If staff find it harder to exclude themselves from the inclusive workplace dynamic, then they have less opportunity to suffer the lack of productivity that follows.
The Psychological Influences Of A Dress Code
Now that we have covered how a dress code may affect behaviour, and how a dress code may affect productivity vis a vis the emotional need for inclusion, what about how a dress code affects the psychology of a staff member and their resultant productivity?
Self-labelling is a subject covered rather substantially in the realms of clinical psychology and mental illness, but just like nightmares or irrational fears, healthy and stable people will self-label.
We are all aware of the labels other people give others. If you were to hear the words “Blonde” or “Spinster” or “Immigrant” would your mind automatically make any assumptions based on labels you had heard? Would you allow a leggy blonde with hair down to her bottom transplant your kidney or service your car? People also label themselves in a similar manner, usually due to outside influences, and it can affect the productivity of a person.
If a person labels him or herself as lazy, boring, slow or dumb, then he or she will find evidence to support such a label (i.e. will have a positive bias). It is difficult to label yourself as unproductive and unsuccessful if you wear a suit to work. It is hard to call yourself poor and unattractive if every day you are seen walking in the street with a suit on.
As a by-product, if people at your workplace are forced to wear suits, then the people around them will start treating them differently too. Going to work in a suit instead of overalls, will elicit very different reactions from family members, friends and the general public. It is difficult to walk around feeling bad at a job or unproductive when people see you as an important and/or successful person.
You Do Not Have To Spend A Small Fortune On Your Suit
There is this misconception that to look well turned out, clean, mature, productive, efficient and reliable, you need to own a suit that is worth hundreds of pounds. There is an even nuttier notion that spending thousands on a suit makes you look richer and more successful–but that just isn’t the case!
In the book, “The Millionaire Next Door,” it states that most millionaires in the US have never spent more than $300 on a suit. These are millionaires that have the money to pay employees a living wage for their entire life for hopping on one leg. These are people with enough money to punch a senator in the nose and get away with it, and yet they haven’t spent more than $300 on a suit in their lives.
The reason is because a suit on its own makes a person look successful, and where it may not make them look rich (watch court TV where bruisers are put in suits), it doesn’t exactly make them look poor. Once you get to the $300+ mark, a tailored suit has very little to differentiate it from a $1000, with the exception of extra comfort and convenience.
In conclusion, dress code has a very definite effect on productivity and you only have to look about you and your own workplace to see it in action.