A panel of high-level government dignitaries was supposed to visit us, and we were discussing the agenda. Inevitably, the question of dress code came up.
At National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN), we do not have a dress code. So the question was if we should make our team wear business formal for the day?
After, years of experience in the corporate world I was expecting the usual jacket and tie dictum. However, I was pleasantly surprised when Dr. K Srikrishna (ED, NEN), solved the whole dilemma in a single sentence.
He said (paraphrasing), “If we think we need to behave in a different way when someone from outside arrives, it means there’s something wrong with our current way.”
We couldn’t agree more! The meeting swiftly moved to other important aspects.
After this incident, I kept thinking about why dress-code is such a big deal with so many organizations.
If it somehow improves efficiency or productivity why do highly successful companies like Google or Facebook do not have a dress-code.
Why we never saw Steve Jobs wearing a tie while launching ground-breaking products in front of millions of people?
So, does dress-code make a difference in any manner to the way we perform at workplace?
My answer is a definite NO.
Let me take you back a bit in time to explain my reasoning.
When the industrial revolution started there was no ready labor force available.
There were only farmers and craftsmen.
They were not ready to join factories and even if they did join, were not ready to take orders from a supervisor.
The factory owners were frustrated. So they looked for a source that fits the bill, and it was the prison system.
Prisoners represented a set of people already used to the harsh environment and taking orders.
On the downside, they were lazy and unimaginative.
However, it didn’t matter to the factory owners. For the factory owners, workers were just another tool.
They were supposed to work on machines not come up with ideas.
So the archetype of a worker was set as someone lazy, unimaginative and needs to be disciplined and controlled.
The whole focus of Taylor’s “Scientific Management” was to treat a man as a part of the machine. It doesn’t recognize someone as an individual. An efficient way of wiping out individuality, therefore, was to make everyone wear similar clothes.
Another aspect of this legacy is the belief that your work and rest of your life are two separate elements.
Therefore, you behave and dress up in a certain way as a person but as soon as you enter your workplace you dress up and behave in a different manner.
Unfortunately, bulk of the business literature was shaped by these early beliefs, and the majority of the business leaders were trained to subscribe to this point of view.
Though, now we are a knowledge economy, and innovation is of paramount importance these old beliefs are still holding us back.
Sergey Brin or Mark Zuckerberg never studied business.
They are engineers, scientists, designers, innovators.
They were never told how to think about work and employees in a certain manner.
For them, work is an essential part of life.
It is something you love to do not despise.
Therefore, the whole work culture is designed to accommodate this belief.
You can wear whatever you want, you have free food, or you can take a nap at your workplace.
Just like in your life.
To conclude, dress-codes are nothing but the remains of an age when man used to be a part of the machine.
That age has long gone. Today we count on individuals and their creative ideas to keep businesses competitive.
Now is the time we stop bothering about something as petty as dress-code.
Now is the time that organizations and leaders change their perspective and recognize the individual in each of us.