People Management poll results: are employees dressing too casually at work?

Pyjamas and joggers have increasingly become the new home office uniform, but experts warn it blurs the lines between home and work life

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A LinkedIn poll by People Management has found that more than a third (37 per cent) of respondents think employees dress too casually at work, while the remaining 63 per cent of the 1,695 polled disagree.

Wearing more relaxed clothing to work is a growing trend following the pandemic. A survey of 1,035 employees and 500 employers by Indeed found that the average employee now wears pyjamas 46 working days a year.

In addition, more than half (56 per cent) of employees said they wore jogging bottoms or leggings while working, with almost two thirds (63 per cent) wearing trainers. 

The vast majority (86 per cent) of employers surveyed said they felt it was important for staff to express their identity through their style and clothing at work. However, nearly a third (29 per cent) said they had enforced a strict dress code, or would if they could.

Bryony Williams, coach and HR consultant for The Glass Female, told People Management that while her confidence is boosted by “dressing up” for work, others may not feel the same.

“For some individuals, dressing casually can enhance their comfort and allow them to focus better on their work. It can create a more relaxed and informal atmosphere, which can lead to increased productivity and engagement,” as well as making employees feel “more comfortable and confident”, she said.

Denisa Alexandrescu, marketing executive at Health 2 Employment, said: “In creative or less traditional industries, a relaxed dress code can reflect the company’s ethos and approach, potentially fostering a more innovative and open environment.

“This sense of individuality and freedom of expression… can be a factor in attracting and retaining talent. It also reduces the financial burden and time spent on maintaining a separate wardrobe of professional clothes, which is a relief given the cost of living.”

Hayley Saunders, HR technical consultant at AdviserPlus, told People Management that the rise of remote work has driven the trend of more casual dress codes “partly by a desire to cut heating costs". 

“Allowing items like warm hoodies and scarves becomes a practical solution, particularly in sedentary jobs, promoting both comfort and productivity in diverse work environments,” she said.

Saunders also highlighted that awareness of the importance of flexibility in dress codes to accommodate medical needs was growing. For example, “individuals experiencing menopausal symptoms may require dress code adjustments for comfort and wellbeing”.

Sophie Bryan, founder and chief workplace culture specialist at Ordinarily Different, told People Management: “Choice about clothing allows workers to express themselves in a way that is meaningful to them.” 

She added that allowing flexibility in the way employees dress for work aids their sense of belonging in the workplace. 

However, she also noted: “If you have workers on Zoom calls in pyjamas, then that might indicate there is a wellbeing need and organisations should be vigilant to the cues that someone might be giving off about fatigue, burnout and stress, for example, by their overly relaxed appearance.”

Alexandrescu agreed, saying that wearing pyjamas when working “should not be the norm”. 

She said: “Consistently staying in pyjamas can lead to a disturbance in the natural rhythm, potentially causing sleep issues and reduced energy.”

Alexandrescu added that the lack of movement and isolation that come with these working practices “are detrimental to both body and mind, leading to feelings of demotivation, laziness and even depression”. 

However, Bryan said: “A decrease in performance and engagement is going to be part of a wider issue and, where that is the case, clothing choice, like pyjamas, for example, is merely more of a symptom of that rather than the cause.”

The research found that generation Z were resisting the trend towards casual dress at work, with 42 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds saying they wear professional business attire in front of clients. Just 15 per cent of over 35s say they do the same, with the figure dropping to 10 per cent for over 55s.

Chris Preston, founder and director of The Culture Builders, said: “We need to ensure that casual clothing doesn’t equal casual working.”

Dressing more smartly, Preston argues, “helps us shift into a different mindset and gear up for work. Then at the end of the day, we change outfits and physically step out of work.”

He added: “Employees need to own the impact of what they wear” and remember that “in some cases too casual is the wrong thing.

“Yes, be yourself and wear clothes that match who you are, but also recognise that the more ‘out there’ outfits could cause discomfort for some people – in particular clients or key stakeholders,” Preston said.

“Ultimately, we should always be ready for a last-minute important meeting that requires us to show up at our best. Work is about being professional when it’s needed and, when we choose our clothes, that should be in the back of our mind.”