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Is your office dress code driving away your most talented employees?

79% of the UK's workforce are subject to some sort of dress code, according to our nationally representative study* of 2,000 UK adults.

Man behind desk wears formal suit and tie
This chap would be asked to put on a jacket in some offices.

The most common sartorial stipulation is that employees are required to dress in 'smart business wear', but aren't required to wear ties.

Anecdotally, the most common manifestation of 'smart business wear' is smart trousers, shirt and smart shoes for men, but for women, it was more about what not to wear.

Personal impact

Our research suggests that far from improving morale and productivity, these rules have a broadly negative impact on the UK workforce.

The impact of telling employees what to wear has been well documented recently, with the case of Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from her job as a secretary at PwC for refusing to wear uncomfortable high heels.

Woman wears uncomfortable heels to work
High heels are perhaps the most controversial dress code requirement.

But it doesn't take extreme and impractical enforcement of these policies to cause problems for staff. Simply being told what to wear is an issue for many. In fact, more than one in ten (12%) of the UK's workforce say they've considered leaving a job because of the strict dress code.

Different sectors and job types have different issues with the concept. For example, 32% of people who work in call centres have considered quitting because of their employer's rules on clothing, the highest of any job type.

The science and pharmaceuticals sector is at risk of losing talent due to dress codes too. 31% of workers in that sector say they've considered quitting their job because of them. The figure is 29% among I.T workers, who presumably resent having to crawl under desks to fix computers while wearing a shirt and tie or high heels and a skirt.

People working in the media and in online industries are equally unhappy at being told what to wear, but are less likely to quit their job over it. 27% working in that sector said they'd be happier if their employer just relaxed their dress code.

Man wears smart business wear dress code to work
Ties are generally not required for most offices.

Impact on work

61% of the UK's workforce say receiving guidance on what to wear has no positive impact on their happiness or performance at work. Almost half (45%) of the UK's workforce say they'd work just as well without the enforcement of a dress code.

One in ten (11%) say they'd work better and be happier at work if the rules were relaxed. 15% say the likelihood of being subject to rules about what they can wear actually influenced their career choice.

Impact on Millennials

18-34 year olds are more likely than any other age group to be subject to the strictest dress code. 17% of people aged 18-34 have considered quitting their job over the employer's dress code. Just 7% of people aged over 55 had the same issue.

Impact on men and women

Men are more likely to have a job with the strictest type of policy, which we've labelled as 'Business' in the table below. They're also the most likely to have a job with the most relaxed approach, which we've labelled 'no dress code'.

Women are most likely to work for companies with more relaxed guidance.

Dress code Description Women Men
Business Strict business dress code: Dark suits, ties for men. Smart business wear for women. Grooming guidance given as part of dress code. 7.04% 10.16%
Relaxed business Smart dress code, but flexible. Suits and ties recommended, but not mandatory. No jeans. 32.84% 29.04%
Smart casual Smart casual dress code: Smart jeans permitted, casual shoes, knitwear permitted. 19.79% 18.45%
Casual Casual dress code: No items of clothing specified, but ripped jeans, trainers, sportswear not permitted. 13.20% 13.02%
No dress code Anything goes. Employees explicitly told they can wear what they want. 15.10% 17.45%
Undefined No guidance on what to wear at all. 12.02% 11.87%

Compared to women, men are 44% more likely to have a job with an inflexible, strictly enforced policy and 33% more likely than women to consider leaving their job due to it.

Woman in office wears relaxed dress code
A more relaxed approach prevails in some industries.

By location

Dress code trends were relatively consistent across the country, but a couple of trends were worth noting. Liverpool had the highest proportion of workers subject to the strictest of rules. 19% of Liverpool residents said they worked in offices where ties and dark suits were mandatory for men, compared to the national average of 9%.

Bristol has the most relaxed offices in the country, with 21% of residents saying they get to wear whatever they like to the office.

London, where we might expect a higher concentration of both extremes, given the amount of banking and creative jobs in the city, was relatively nationally representative.

City worker wearing three piece suit on way to work in the City
Some businesses still have a policy on facial hair.

About the study

*OnePoll surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,000 UK adults, between the 1st of August and 3rd of August on behalf of Style Compare. OnePoll are members of the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research and employ members of the Marketing Research Society.

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