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Why do some companies implement a policy that requires all employees to wear a uniform, designed and made by the company, even though some of their employees are not visible to people outside of the company?

I do understand that some employees, employees whose work always needs to be visible to clients/customers, need to wear a uniform, so that clients who regularly see them have a good/clean impression about our company. Also, a uniform can act as a trademark, so that clients can easily recognize our company.

But what I can't understand is why do employees that are not visible to people outside of the company (e.g. Software Developer), need to wear a uniform? What is the purpose of wearing it?

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What company makes software developers wear uniforms? –  Keith Thompson Dec 4 '12 at 5:45
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@KeithThompson I know someone who worked as an application developer at Honda, and had to wear steel-toed boots and a white over-coat to work even though this person never stepped out to the factory. –  MrFox Dec 4 '12 at 15:33
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I understand that there are many that would prefer not to work in this type of environment. Lets not focus on that and rather on helping the OP understand why his employer may choose to have a uniform policy. –  Chad Dec 4 '12 at 16:25
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@suslik app devs wearing steel toed boots and overcoats may be for insurance reasons - Honda might be able to save a ton of money if they can prove to their insurance company that everyone who works within a certain distance of the factory is required to wear certain safety equipment. –  Tacroy Dec 4 '12 at 17:42
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@foampile: Exceptions don't prove rules! –  Keith Thompson Dec 4 '12 at 19:22
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9 Answers

Organisations usually employ uniforms to create a clear identification and/or bond between members; the bonding aspect can be especially important in some cultures.

Steve Jobs considered a uniform for Apple for these reasons, based on observations of Sony in Japan; when this was not accepted by his workforce, he still adopted his "personal uniform."

Uniforms can also encourage pride in the company or its values; while we don't have a uniform, many employees where I work choose to wear clothes with the company logo on them. Ironically, I suspect the situation, if we tried to enforce this, would be similar to that which Steve Jobs faced.

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It may also allow for easy visual determining if a given person is a guest or a regular. –  Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Oct 22 '13 at 10:03
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Don't underestimate the power of costume. I once arrived at a conference that told the speakers "wear your shorts, wear running shoes, untuck your shirt, keep it casual." I did that for my first talk and it wasn't as good as it could have been. For the other two talks I went back to my "uniform" of dress shoes, dress pants, and a tucked in speaker shirt, and I gave better talks. I think it gave me a very tangible reminder that I was not rehearsing, I was not running the talk for time, I was really delivering it, let's go! And sure, logic would say that the hundreds of people sitting looking at me should have taken care of that, but being in "speaker costume" really made a difference.

While it may seem outrageous to suggest a software developer wear a uniform, I have many clients where everyone wears a logoed shirt, every day. It would be weird if the developers didn't. And once you start to do that, it gains power - when you put it on, you gain context for the day. It reminds you that you are at work now.

The purpose is presumably to remind everyone that you are all part of the same team. That even though you don't meet customers, you are still working to meet their needs. That even though you are not at a front desk or in a store, you are a colleague and team-mate of those who are. That you are not different and not special (which is precisely why we resist it and say "not developers, surely?").

As a side effect it eliminates issues of dress code (is this outfit too sexy for work?) and might save time and effort for staff. Plenty of developers would be happy to wear the identical outfit every day and never again decide what to wear.

On balance I would prefer not to have someone else choose my clothes. But I understand the reasoning behind it.

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You can assume anyone you meet not in uniform is someone to give assistance.

Part of any job is to make sure that the core business is handled successfully. If you see someone out of uniform wandering around you can ask them if they need help and/or escort them to someone to help them.

Having the uniform on allows you to be able to interact with customers and present the image your employer wishes to present.

Even though you may rarely and possibly never interact with customers, should the need arise your image is prepared. In some businesses this is very important. An example is Disney. All employees are "Cast Members" and are always expected to interact with guests so as not to dispel the magic.

It can be used to identify roles.

This is the strategy the navy uses to help run its ships more efficiently. But this can be effective in business as well. Not only will it help identify people who are there to help but it can help identify people who are out of place. In situations where you have sensitive information to protect this can be very important.

It helps build company culture.

You never have to worry about anyone wearing anything inappropriate to work if everyone has a uniform to wear. As well as has been explained by others the bonding that goes along with people who look alike. While physical characteristics may vary a similar uniform can overcome these distinctions and some believe can help to dispel appearance bias.

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A few reasons -

As other posts say - sharing a common identity within a team is a huge thing. If you're trying to encourage a culture where people are more motivated to be in the team and part of the team then a uniform can be part of the strategy. There's been quite a few social psychology research efforts on this - but the bottom line is that voluntary or mandatory uniforms make people feel like part of a community.

It can also be cross-organizational drivers. If the company has multiple teams, all at the same basic job description and seniority, and some must wear a uniform for customer-facing reasons, then it can be worthwhile to enforce it across all groups. I've seen other rules work this way - to avoid a "them" and "us" mentality from uniform/non-uniform groups, the company dictates that it everyone be the same. Also, there can be a subtle discrimination for or against uniforms in how uniformed and non-uniformed groups interact - so if you have peers in uniform, that may a reason in and of itself.

Safety - usually for the worker, but also for the environment - for example, micro-electronic engineers wear clothing that has a very low chance of generating static so it won't damage the equipment. Different jobs have different risks. Admittedly, a software developer or other office worker doesn't have a typical case for this - but it's out there for some jobs/roles.

Past issues - you'd hope that an office could address cases of improper dress with a more moderate approach than a full shift to uniforms - but you never really know. Rules can either be avoidance or mandated performance - ie "don't do this" vs. "do this". It can be very easy, with an avoidance driven rule to deal with people who are skirting the edge, intentionally - leaving management in a state of constant rule revision and enforcement. With such a condition, the easiest approach could be to give up on saying what's wrong and mandating the same dress for everyone, eliminating some of the ambiguity.

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sharing a common identity within a team is a huge thing ... sure, that may have worked for factory workers in the 1930 Germany or Japan. I doubt more than 3% of software engineers like to have conformism and unquestioned obedience, which is what the uniform pretty much stands for, shoved down their throats. They also don't like to do anything, not just dress, according to some unevaluated protocol. Programmers are typically intelligent people who don't want to just be standardized machine compoents and I don't blame them -- you become a programmer to program machines, not be part of one –  amphibient Dec 4 '12 at 15:43
    
@foampile - Most people who stop fighting the uniforms find that it is not that big of a deal so long as they are comfortable and not obnoxious. Most people prefer to have a paycheck as to not especially if the choice is wear a uniform and get paid or not and not. –  Chad Dec 4 '12 at 16:32
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I was in the Air Force for a long time, where everyone, even software types, wore a uniform. Most were fine with uniforms. Uniforms certainly do increase the feeling of being on the same team. Even with the Air Force, subcultures develop their own variations to create a further unique team identity. Still, a dress code or uniform policy does tend to exclude otherwise talented employees who are not comfortable with the idea. –  Jim In Texas Dec 4 '12 at 16:49
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@foampile Ultimately it is about the culture the company wants to build in its workplace, in terms of a formal uniform or dress code. I was fascinated by the fact that Steve Jobs found uniforms appealing. I know a large number of creative and intelegent people who are simply not interested in their appearance or what they are wearing - they tend to wear the same or similar "outfits" all the time to work. –  GuyM Dec 4 '12 at 17:48
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Uniforms aren't some old thing - religious groups, sports teams (and fans!), the military, and other groups still see enough strength in a commonality of dress that it's either mandatory or strongly enforced within the group. I'd argue that engineers don't like being part of an authoriarian leadership model - but I'm not sure I agree that they don't have a self-enforced dress style - I was ostracized by my coworkers at my first software eng job until I started dressing more like an engineer and less like a member of the marketing dept. I wish I'd known the dress code 4 months earlier!!! –  bethlakshmi Dec 5 '12 at 18:59
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Part of the organization's brand may be for people to look alike and thus the uniform does achieve this result. For example, some schools will have students all wear the same uniform. Now, there may be a lot of school days where there aren't visitors yet children are still expected to maintain a certain image as part of how a school operates. At least that would be how I'd look at it for an understanding.

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+1 Branding is very important to many companies. –  Chad Dec 4 '12 at 16:29
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One thing not mentioned in other answers as far as I can tell is Security. That is, in an organization that is too large for everyone to know everyone else, having everyone be in uniform makes it much easier to spot someone who isn't supposed to be there. That's not to say it's perfect, as someone could surely acquire a uniform (or something that looked close enough to fool the casual observer) but it does add a level of security.

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That only gives a false sense of security. How hard could it be to fake a uniform? –  James Khoury Dec 5 '12 at 5:20
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Not impossible certainly, and maybe easier depending on the uniform, but it is an extra barrier against just Social Engineering yourself into sensitive areas of an operation. –  aslum Dec 5 '12 at 17:25
    
+aslum or a way of infiltrating your wearing the uniform right so you must be one of us - "no problem I will hold the door to the server room for you as you have your have yoru hands full" –  Neuro Dec 7 '12 at 20:23
    
And if you've ever seen a James Bond movie wearing a uniform puts you at significant risk of getting knocked out and waking up in a broom closet in your underwear. –  Amy Blankenship Oct 22 '13 at 2:10
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First and foremost, never assume that you will never meet a customer. At my company, we have a call center that requires keyed access to get in; only agents, certain support staff, and execs can open that door. You'd think that's the perfect hidey-hole for people to wear jeans and a t-shirt to work every day.

Nope. We do client tours all the time. Most are scheduled; a few are unannounced. The call center, which is pretty much the nerve center of the company's core service, is always a favorite because there's a lot of computers, a lot of video screens and generally a lot of activity going on. As such, our call center employees must always be wearing their black logoed polo shirts and khakis or black slacks.

Other departments are more open-air, yet have laxer dress codes. Nevertheless, the day before a client visit, we still get an e-mail "please make sure your cubes are tidied up before you leave, and please come to work tomorrow in business casual; no jeans, non-logoed polos or t-shirts". Certain of those departments, when a visit is scheduled, revert to uniform dress code similar to the call center, but don't require it of everyone, every shift. For a company where client or customer visits and tours are common, it can be easily understood why a uniform policy is enforced.

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There's a big difference between a dress code and a requirement to wear uniforms. –  Keith Thompson Dec 5 '12 at 4:09
    
A uniform dress code is still a dress code, just more specific. The more uniform the code, the less likely someone will find a loophole. Now, that in itself raises a lot of implicit questions about management; why would they think anyone would want to find a loophole? Maybe they don't; maybe it's for other reasons. Or maybe they want to be able to have an easy way to fire someone whose attire is an embarrassment, whether in the clients' eyes or just management's. –  KeithS Dec 6 '12 at 20:46
    
A uniform is specific to a particular workplace; for example, it might include a company logo. A dress code, however stringent (e.g., suit and tie with specific colors), lets you wear something that you could as easily wear somewhere else. –  Keith Thompson Dec 6 '12 at 20:53
    
Uniforms don't have to have logos and are not always specific to a particular workplace. Your higher-end foodservice establishments, for instance, will go to great lengths to avoid looking like casual dining, and that means white or black logo-less dress shirts instead of logoed polos or t-shirts. At that level, that same uniform works pretty much everywhere, and the employees are required to purchase it themselves. Similarly, you could be forced to wear a white shirt and tie for a bank job whether you're a teller or the guy in back watching cameras. –  KeithS Jun 17 '13 at 21:35
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You may be more visible to people outside the company than you think or do you never enter the building or go to HR or go to the lunch are, etc. Also visitors are often shown through the building and may walk through your workspace from time to time. Further, allowing one group a special priviledge of being able to dress as they wish when others cannot will generate lots of resentment and may be an issue that HR would prefer not to have to deal with. It is easier after all to make rules apply equally to everyone.

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Then you just end up with resentment in the other direction, such as irritable engineers wondering why they have to follow the marketing department's dress code just because they have to meet customers. This approach seems not just more authoritarian, but more immature and childish. Anyway, I understand you're just explaining the thought process behind why companies do this, but I don't think it's a good approach for the people who worked hard to choose careers that should have afforded them a bit more leeway. –  jmort253 Dec 9 '12 at 10:03
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It is because some companies are foolish and micro manage their employees.

There are lots of theories a company might come up with as to why wearing requiring employees to wear a uniform might possibly help performance. You can find a great number of them in other answers to this question.

These theories neglect the undeniable fact that companies must compete with other companies for the most desirable workers. The situation is bad enough that they have to pay people actual money and other expensive benefits to get them to work for them.

Given that this is the case, why on earth would a company shoot itself in the foot by forcing employees to do things of dubious value like wear uniforms no client will see? It's for the same reason other forms of micro-management occur, managers are paid to manage, they feel they have a good idea and know better than their employees, and/or they need to have visible evidence that management is occurring.

Forcing employees to do anything without a clear business reason to justify it is just creating "anti-perks" that put you at a competitive disadvantage. As a manager, pick your battles, and when you do, don't create a battle over uniforms no client will see. Doing so isn't hugely consequential, this just isn't important enough to have a huge effect, but to the extent that it matters it's still a bad idea.

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I think very few people would reject a job offer because they would have to wear a uniform so long as the uniform was comfortable. –  Chad Dec 4 '12 at 20:00
    
@Chad - I said it isn't hugely consequential. I think it could be a tie breaker if it were very close. And during an interview process small things can be magnified because there is so little information, so someone might worry that this is a sign of more pervasive micro management. –  psr Dec 4 '12 at 21:16
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@Chad - Good point - if you are in a work environment such that management actually is doing the correct thing by stepping in to judge the appropriateness of employee clothing then management may be fine, but your co-workers are clearly having some trouble getting along with each other. –  psr Dec 4 '12 at 21:25
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@emory - Provides yes. Requires you to wear, probably not. I suppose the providing might outweigh the requiring a lot of the time. –  psr Dec 4 '12 at 22:12
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FWIW Most companies that have required uniforms that pay more than minimum wage also provide laundry service for that uniform. –  Chad Dec 4 '12 at 22:39
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