Thursday, February 07, 2008

Dress Code in Business

I am genuinely grateful to Jim Baker for his comments recently about my dress code for the Fox TV Interview and it has prompted me to publish a new posting on the subject.

Jim’s view is that I should have worn a jacket and tie because this was a business interview. I completely understand Jim’s view and of course I respect that argument.

Jim deserves a proper response from me rather than a brief reply in the comments section

For many years in the National Health Service – from age 16 right through to about 35 I ALWAYS wore a shirt and tie at work and often a suit. It was kind of expected if not said. I guess it was just the way things were.

As I got older and a bit more confident I guess I also became braver. I decided I would take a more casual approach to dress. I always took a tie to work but if I had a day when I was not going to meet any patients or their carers I wore an open neck shirt and the tie stayed in my office desk. I then started to wear t-shirts if we had no important meetings. Most of my male colleagues did wear ties and I was invariably the odd one out at meetings. My dress code actually became a bit of a discussion topic in the office.

I felt a whole lot better one day when we had a meeting with 10 family doctors – a group of very revered professionals. Paul – one of the most highly respected doctors arrived for the meeting on his bicycle wearing shorts and a t-shirt. One of his colleague doctors David was even more casual in a tracksuit and trainers having just been to the gym in his lunch hour. I actually felt ‘over dressed’ in my casual trousers and t-shirt! My recollection is the meeting was as effective as it would have been had all participants been wearing jacket and tie.

I noticed gradually over the next few years that more and more men started to discard the tie unless we were in important meetings or there was some special occasion.

Then there was the advent of something called ‘dress down Friday’ which I never understood. People were allowed to dress casually on a Friday – I still don’t understand the logic of that. If it’s ok on Friday why not every day Monday–Friday?

I think it is fair to say the dress code is now much less formal in office settings where there is no direct customer contact and I warmly applaud that.

Wearing an open neck shirt and smart casual trousers is acceptable in almost all settings as far as I’m concerned.

I believe managers can be trusted to dress how they feel they should dress bearing in mind they are representing themselves as well as the organisation.

We can trust people to make the right call in my view.

Let me say up front I am not advocating anarchy here – I am just saying trust your managers and your staff.

And finally if we should be expected to wear a jacket and tie because it is a business setting what does that tell us about business? … That we all must look the same? That difference cannot be tolerated? That conformity is the Holy Grail?

I repeat that I am grateful to Jim for raising this issue and I am not saying for one nanosecond that I am right. I am expecting dissenting views as well in the comments on this posting.

Over to you.


Rocky said...

Fox did not ask to interview a suit. They wanted an interview with someone that had something to say on the topic of simplicity in business. You are an expert on the subject and came across loud and clear on the topic. I seriously doubt that many people paid attention to the fact that you were not wearing a tie. Your message was clear and concise. The interview is the subject of interest not the tie. Had you decided to wear something loud and attention grabbing it may have detracted from the interview. You were very business casual and I really don't think most people thought much of it one way or the other. It does generate a good discussion on how much does the clothes make the man or does the message make the clothes?

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Rocky - I really do understand that not everyone agrees with you and I and that is ok. I just wanted to feel relaxed and appear authentic - I hope that was achieved.

'Fox did not ask to interview a suit.' - I like that :-)

Dave Wheeler said...

I spent 24 years in the military where I stood in front of the closet each and pondered the question "Let's see, what will it be today? The camoflauge? or.....the camoflauge?" Choice is a marvelous thing. My brother works in Silicon Valley where folks routinely work 65 and 70 hour work weeks and comfort is critical. T-shirts are like badges of honor and a canvas of self expression. You could easily implement a strict dress code there because, the minute you announced it, you would be the only one left in the building. In fact, the labels "Suit" or "empty Suit" was not something complimentary about your manner of dress but rather your lack of creative capability and other personal traits. But Trevor...look at this way. One could not view your interview and say it was a case of style over substance. It was the epitomy of style AND substance!

Gabe said...

Have I mentioned Ricardo Semler to anybody hear before? Well there...I just did. One of the key traits of his democracy work place SEMCO is no dress codes. I encourage everyone to read his two books, Maverick and The Seven Day Weekend. Or check out this website Set Them Free for a quick highlight of Ricardo and his ideology.

Gabe said...

Finally watched the interview.....sweet. You said it my man. I love your Richard Branson Antecdote. I really like him. I hope to work for Virgin Galactic someday (seeing as he's setting up shop in my home state of New Mexico).

Trevor Gay said...

Dave – Thank you my friend. It’s really interesting that with all your military experience you advocate, like me, a much more informal dress code. Backing up your point about creativity, Tom Peters once said that the amount of creativity in organisations is directly proportionate to the number of ties worn :-)

Gabe - I am aware of Ricardo Semler’s philosophy and his books and a friend of mine, David Wike who regularly comments on Simplicity Blog is a great advocate of Semler. I would like to work for Mr Semler – I love his style. As for a job with Richard Branson - why not drop an e mail to Virgin HQ and tell them you want to work for them? - Good luck with that - please reserve two tickets for me and Annie on the first galactic flight :-)

David Wike said...

As you have mentioned me as a regular contributor, I felt that I had to comment on this discussion Trevor!

I have to say that your style of dress did not cross my mind when I watched the interview because that’s how you’ve been dressed every time I’ve met you, so for me it was ‘authentic Trevor’.

There is no right answer when it comes to appropriate dress. Maybe the word ‘appropriate’ is the key. If you are in the military or the police for example, then clearly uniform is appropriate. If our customers expect to see us in a suit, then wearing a suit is appropriate.

I have no knowledge of the US, but in continental Europe, wearing a jacket (as opposed to a suit) has been common practice for many years. In southern Europe in summer, it is quite common to see business people wearing a T-shirt with a jacket. In France, Spain and Italy, in my opinion, the people are generally more stylish than in the UK. Men and women tend to wear jackets even when casually dressed. This sense of style transmits down to the younger generation – you tend not to see teenagers looking as scruffy as they do in Britain.

Interestingly, school uniform, which is common in the UK, is not a feature of France – not sure about other European countries. I wonder whether there is a link here – when you have been in uniform, you can’t wait to dress down, and vice versa.

I was an early rebel, starting to wear sports jackets and blazers rather than suits as far back as the 80s. When I worked in Product Development, dress was relatively casual but when I moved to Marketing I found it staffed by ‘suits’ except on Fridays! Unfortunately some over-did the dressing down and the S&M director banned the practice.

Having had three years as Chairman and Chief Executive of myself, where the dress down code applies every day, I quite enjoy the occasions when it is appropriate to put on a suit or jacket, although I still resist a tie most times.

In the UK there used to be an interesting split between what were called the ‘working class’ (blue collar) and the middle-class/professionals (white collar). The former would wear overalls during the week and then don suits at the weekend, especially to go to the pub on Sunday lunchtime. The latter group would wear suits during the week, then change into more casual clothing at weekends.

But to come back to what is appropriate. If we are over-casual in our dress, do we set a bad example for the younger generation? If I interviewed someone for an office job, I would expect them to wear a suit and a tie. If they didn’t, I would think that they were not really serious about wanting the job (and remember, I’m Mr Casual). So if influential people like Trevor appear on a business TV programme without a jacket, is this helpful when someone is trying to persuade their teenage son that he really should wear a jacket and tie for his job interview?

Incidentally, I had a quick look on the Internet for interview advice and found this:

8. Dress to impress
Shakespeare once said: "Apparel oft proclaims the man." Your image is the outer reflection of your inner self allowing people to judge and make assumptions of your personality and attitudes. Dressing successfully (or unsuccessfully) can make or break your interview. Dress for the job you want not the job you already have.

Trevor, I hope this lengthy contribution will let me off the hook for a few days now! By the way, I’m sitting in my executive office in a T-shirt, sweater and jeans!

Trevor Gay said...

David – thanks for your brilliant response as always. Good to know you are wearing the right outfit in the office.

I think we have to feel comfortable in whatever we are wearing for the job we are doing and what or who we are representing. We need to apply the test of ‘reasonableness’ and common sense – we are adults.

As a 16 year old for my first interview for a job I certainly wore a smart jacket and tie and I got the job. There is nothing wrong with that advice … I expect when the teenage son gets the job he will soon discover when is the right time to discard the tie.

Maria said...

Nice post

dinner jacket said...

WTF! I wish all business company implement this dress code to their employees.

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