I want to try to convince my HR department that in the modern workplace an open dress code (i.e. jeans, t-shirts, whatever) leads to happier (and therefore more productive) employees and appeals to younger generations who could become future employees. Right now we are restricted to business casual clothing (khakis, polo, etc) which I and many of my coworkers do not want to follow. What are some major points and resources I can use to build my argument?
There's enough evidence out there on both sides, that I don't think you can dig up "unrefutable evidence that a very casual dress code is consistently a win for job X". But there's ways to get what you want anyway... here's some ideas.
Know your restrictions
There are some primary reasons why companies set a dress code: - bad experiences in the past - a desire to create an image in front of the customer - a mentality from senior management on what "appropriate" is - a belief that "sloppy" dress will lead to sloppy behavior.
It sounds like you've got the big pro already - employee satisfaction - which helps both retention and recruitment. Perhaps you can make a sale that comfort also leads to lower stress and better health - but I don't know that you can pull up widely agreed upon studies to back you up there. The big ones are usually what you already mention - employees like it.
So, first, know who and what you are up against. Has your company had a bad experience with casual dress in the past? If so - why, and what can you do to mitigate that? Is it really HR that's the "no" vote or is there a senior exec out there with a bias towards dressing up? What are your limitations with respect to customers? Don't be narrow focused - just because you don't meet personally with customers it doesn't mean that they don't walk through and judge you.
Know why the drive for formal dress before you walk into the meeting so you can be prepared for why your idea will work and the big issues are covered.
Trying something small and not so scary as a proving ground for casual dress with the option to escalate may mitigate fears if you're in a "we've never done it before and change is bad" cycle. Say, a casual Friday every week, or a 1 month trial and evaluation. Or a choice to let a certain group do it - perhaps those who have to do a lot of unpleasant work so that it's a special treat at least at first.
Staging it as a test with a plan for what demonstrable results would be is a way to suggest an alternative to all or nothing. If it proves to be popular and not damaging to business, you'll have a real world example for why it will work and you can expand upon it.
Changing just about any policy requires a great deal of informal legwork in just about any organization. Setting the rule the first time is easy, changing expectations is hard. Prepare yourself for doing a lot of information conversations before and after meetings. Realize that people may not voice opinions in public groups, even when those opinions are very strong - give them the opportunity to talk to you and raise concerns both publicly and privately. Realize that in the end, you'll change opinions one person at a time...
Give people something to go to rather than to avoid. For example, with casual dress you could say either statement:
- We aren't a stuffy old school company with formal, uncomfortable dress. We don't hold with those outdated norms.
- We are a young, hip company that responds to the changing times who wants to present an everyday person image that customers and employees alike find non-threatening and accessible.
Which one sounds nicer to be a part of? Even if you like formal dress, the second item sounds worth considering.
Some very stodgy companies have made this transition in Canada, and I've seen this pattern a few times.
First, it's a one time thing to raise funds for charity. People "pay" (by donating to the United Way) for the right to wear casual clothes on a specific day. This happens even for customer facing people like bank tellers. Typically they wear these stickers to explain:
Later, when the company didn't crumble and burn from a single day of "business casual" in a suits environment, or jeans-and-tshirts in a business casual environment, someone suggests a trial of "casual fridays", perhaps just in the summer to start.
Eventually someone says "hey! didn't we all used to wear suits?" and no-one is quite sure when the changeover happened.
What isn't going to work is you convincing someone to send a memo, and everyone wearing jeans from then on. Whatever happens will be gradual. The charity angle is a great wedge to get it started, if you have something like it where you live.
Some battles are not worth fighting
Does it really matter if you are wearing jeans or khaki slacks? A polo shirt or a tee shirt? They aren't asking you to work in a jacket and tie. And really, wearing a tie is no big deal either if your shirt fits.
Don't expend the limited goodwill you may have accumulated on something most people will view as trivial. Worse, your complaints about this will be seen by many as a sign of immaturity.
Anyway, your argument is weak. I don't think there are a lot of superstars in Ohio who would refuse an otherwise attractive position just because they can't wear jeans to work.
Seriously, just don't go there. Raising this as a problem is a career killer. If it bothers you that much, find a job in a company where you can wear whatever you like.
I see from your profile that you are a recent graduate. This gives you much less leverage to work on policy changes than someone with experience because at the entry level you are easily replaceable. Therefore you need to think long and hard about whether you want to bring up this issue at this time. It would be better to wait until you gain a little more experience and some perspective on why the company does not want you to dress in jeans.
In order to successfully change company policies you generally need some street cred, right now you don't have any. So if you truly want to affect the policies of your company, first you have to show them that you are a valueable employee who is a team player. Trying to change things for your convenience or personal preference when you haven't established a reputation as a team player first will almost always fail.
Now truly what you wear is a trivial issue, do you really want to waste whatever street cred you have on it or would you prefer to be able to have influence on things that are much more important such as the way software is developed. You are young, learn to pick your battles.
If you are going to try to change policies then the first thing you need is to understand office politics and how to influence decisions when you don't have the authority to make them. You also need to understand how to sell an idea. How to Win Friends and Influence People is a good book to start with.
Something else you might find really helpful is a slide desck from a presentation at the PASS conference this year: http://sqlblog.com/blogs/kevin_kline/archive/2012/11/12/pass-summit-2012-slide-decks.aspx
Go to the link and download the slide deck for Winning Influence in IT teams. It was one of the best sessions I attended at the PASS Conference and every young person just coming into the workplace needs to see this.
As I commented on uniforms, dress codes form part of the organisational culture, and relaxing dress codes usually represents a major organisational change.
Any conservative organisation will resist organisational change, by definition. This is likely to lead to a reactive response that is supported by a fear of extreme scenarios, for example:
- Dirty, smelly jeans ripped to the extent that underware is on display, topped off with an t-shirt sporting a strong position on a hot political topic using R18 language.
- T-shirts endorsing a rival companies products, or carefully selected for passive/aggressive needling of a co-workers
In building a business case you will need to ensure that the overall organisational benefits outweigh the risks or additional work. As with my previous answer related to business cases, I'd suggest:
- find out why your company has a dress code in the first place
- think about the potential pitfalls of relaxing the dress code
- focus on reducing risk/expense rather than improving efficiency
It is likely the only really practical angle is to look at increased staff retention and ease of staff recruitment, in the light of the demographic changes as a result of baby boomers retiring. Be aware that they may also be more interested in retaining their existing baby boomers, and catering to their needs, not yours.
For the HR department to come on board the reduction in work recruiting/replacing staff would have to would have to out weigh the cost of redefining just what was and was not acceptable; if they don't see a recruitment or retention issue at the moment (ask them!) then it will could be a long and difficult battle.
More critically, even with HR as an ally, they would have to convince other key stakeholders (senior management, board, investors, clients) that the relaxation of standards would align with a modern, younger brand image of the company overall, assuming this is actually part of their business strategy. Your industry and changing client base are critical here.
In an ideal world this wouldn't be an issue, but I wouldn't underestimate the resistance you could encounter.
For the record, we don't have a dress code, but I have had to pull staff up from time to time for offensive or insensitive t-shirt messages.
Why is this dress code so important to your company that they've gone to the trouble of making it a policy? There may have been a time when jeans were allowed, but too many people showed up to work in torn and faded jeans with their butt-cracks sticking out. This could be more of a firm-wide compromise since many employees need to meet with customers or your office has visitors and see it as unfair to only allow your group to dress casually (Maybe there are privelages they have that you don't which you can point out as a compromise?) Another reason may be to promote a professional environment.
Your job is to identify the rationale behind the dress code assumption. It could just be a preference to those in charge. You've identified this as a group preference and your assumption is this will make you happy which will make you better workers. Also, are you truly getting feedback from potential employees that they chose not to work there because of the dress code? Programmers (and probably other creative types) are misunderstood and mismanaged by many corporate leaders who don't get it.
Do a little more research. You have your work cut-out for you. Good luck.