As I write this blog sat at my desk in Skout HQ, I’m wearing a purple roll-neck jumper, jeans and a nice comfy pair of trainers. Let’s imagine what this would have looked like 30 years ago; not only would my desk be without a PC, but my office attire wouldn’t be anything less formal than a shirt, tie, trousers and black shoes. At Skout, we save the power suits and court shoes for client meetings, just like many other PR agencies. Judging by some headlines over the past few weeks, PR isn’t the only sector with a desire to have relaxed dress codes, and I can’t help but wonder the effect this will have on the brand image of these organisations that are moving with the times.
This year sees investment bank Goldman Sachs reach its 150 year anniversary, and for a century and a half it has enforced a smart dress code for staff. But the bank’s chief executive, David Solomon, recently announced to employees that suits and ties are now optional. They can adopt a more casual working attire, but when they are meeting clients they must decide for themselves what clothing would be appropriate. In his announcement, Soloman said that employees should consider how the client being met that day would relate to their choice of clothes, referencing the diverse range of clients that the business has. The business has come to understand that more casual dress can in fact engage better with some personalities and achieve successful client relationships.
Policies governing how staff should look aren’t just about clothing. Rules on make-up are part of many organisations’ codes of conduct too, and nobody knows that better than air hostesses. But this month Virgin Atlantic became the first premier airline to tell female cabin crew that make-up is no longer a requirement when working. Scrolling down to the comments section of news articles reporting on this, I can see that many are pleased that female staff aren’t being treated any differently than their male colleagues. Female cabin crew being made to wear make-up is part of a wider issue of alleged gender inequality in the aviation industry, including poor maternity policies and a gender pay gap, and removing a rule exclusive to female staff is a step in the right direction. Given that the announcement was made on the same week as International Women’s Day, you have to hand it to Virgin Atlantic and its impeccable timing in showing itself to be a fair and equal employer.
There’s no denying that a formal dress code can help create a good impression, but as we’ve seen with two big businesses, relaxing the rules with regards to image can achieve so much more than that. Casual dress can achieve other factors of what makes a good brand, including successful customer engagement and fair staff treatment, so businesses shouldn’t underestimate the power of their staff wearing the likes of jeans and t-shirts. Maybe a pair of swim shorts and flip flops would be a step too far though.
Alex Brown enjoys being one of the Skout blog’s most regular contributors.