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I am a team lead in a large company in the US. I have 15 direct reports. We do not interact with external customers. Our dress code is business casual. Very recently, Casual Friday was introduced. This means we are now allowed to dress in jeans, polo shirts and sneakers (these items are excluded in our definition of casual business) on Fridays.

I personally prefer a dressier style, but as a team lead, should I make it a point to dress casually on Fridays? Or, from another perspective, if I do not dress casually on Fridays, am I sending an unintended message to my team? Am I overthinking this?

I am not asking about the pros/cons of Casual Fridays. I am interested in whether I should be conscious as a team lead such as not to discourage people from the Casual Friday.


I have seen this question Can it be harmful to dress more formally than what the dress code allows? - however, I am interested in the influence from the manager's perspective on direct reports.

11 Answers 11

131

I think that not participating might cause your reports to wonder: if (boss) is still in business dress, does that mean I should too?

Dressing in jeans will definitely make them more comfortable in doing so.

  • 39
    Yep, lead by example. If the goal is people to take advantage of it, then lead that way yourself. It doesn't have to be extreme either. – enderland Apr 7 '17 at 17:15
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    I think that it should only take a few times to initially set the trend and then OP can go back to their preferred style. From then on, participating once a month or so should be enough to keep the team secure in OP's support of Casual Friday. I mention this, since I think that this question has both short-term and long-term elements which can be handled slightly differently. – Jeutnarg Apr 7 '17 at 18:46
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    +1 from me, but to improve the overall answer I think you should add another line explaining that - IF he/she chooses not to participate for whatever reason - they should make it very clear to the team that it is a personal choice and that they are welcome to participate as desired. – Omegacron Apr 7 '17 at 21:23
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    "If (boss) is still in business dress, does that mean I should too?" Doesn't casual friday by definition answer this question conclusively? The point is not to get everyone to wear jeans. If it is, you have no perk, just a different dress code. How is people being less inclined to wear jeans a downside to be avoided, when the same reasoning applies to those who would rather dress formally? – Marcks Thomas Apr 7 '17 at 21:48
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    Yep. Your team will look at you and see how far they can take "casual" without getting into trouble. – Dave Apr 8 '17 at 0:26
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Casual Friday should be considered a perk and not mandatory. Some people are not comfortable wearing jeans. Why should they be punished? I've worked with people who really enjoyed putting on a suit and tie. It made them feel better. As someone who really enjoys dressing casual, I don't really care if others participate or not. Not having to iron and put on uncomfortable clothes is a reward to me.

If you think this makes you perform better or give you some sort of leader's edge or you just don't like dressing this way, go for it.

There are so many areas where someone thinks something is a reward and it turns out that it is not for everyone. I think a company should put together a list of several perks and let people choose which one they want. If you don't see clients, maybe I'd rather dress casual on Thursday if that's my night for going out.

I don't think you're the one overthinking this. Most incentive plans are over-thought and not effective.

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    This may lead to doubt in the team, and disincentivizes the perk, as nobody wants to be the first to act out. Sorry, but -1. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Apr 7 '17 at 21:15
  • It can still be a suit and tie but still be more casual though. – Walfrat Apr 10 '17 at 11:34
  • @Anoplexian -1, seriously? This question has no objective answer, and he has offered a justified, reasonable opinion - does not merit a downvote. – user1997744 Apr 10 '17 at 14:30
  • @user1997744 Actually, this is an open forum, and I don't agree that it's the best way to go. REGARDLESS of what you think, I am more than welcome to downvote where I see fit, as it's part of the very fabric that makes this website good. Also, I'm clearly not the only one with that opinion, as the comment itself shows support. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Apr 10 '17 at 15:31
  • No worries here on the downvote. However, I would like to ask: how does this apply disincentive to the perk? That would be like saying "the boss isn't taking a vacation, I shouldn't either". If the perk is there, I'll make use of it. If others feel like they can't, then that is their never mind, boss or not. I'm not beholden to what my boss does in order to take advantage of a company offering of any sort. A perk is a perk is a perk, and when offered it's because the company wants me to make use of it in order to keep me happy and productive. Not using it seems nonsensical. – SliderBlackrose Apr 10 '17 at 15:49
19

From the point of a subordinate: I may be the oddball here, but I have no interest in what my supervisor wears. Unless they're getting to dress down and others aren't. If we have casual day and the bossman wants to join in, that's his prerogative. I'm more worried about my work than I am about what the boss has covering his epidermis.

Honestly, I think it's overthinking it a bit. If the boss wears torn jeans and shirt and looks nasty, then I will consider paying attention and wondering. If he's dressed in a suit, great. If he's in shorts and a shirt and that's acceptable for everyone that day, then buy the loudest Bahama shirt ever and hit the office. I'm more concerned with (a) am I following the dress code and/or taking advantage of casual friday and (b) is my work getting done. To quote a famous YouTuber: You do you, I'll do me, we won't do each other...probably. ^_^

  • :D and yes, focus on the work. In casual fridays just wear whatever you're comfortable but no too much. – Mauricio Arias Olave Apr 7 '17 at 19:38
  • +1 I think "you are overthinking it" is the correct answer. – user45590 Apr 10 '17 at 9:24
10

May I suggest a compromise? As others have suggested, dressing casually will mean your team is more comfortable doing so too.

However, you don't have to go completely casual. How about just slightly more casual than you would normally? For example, if you normally wear a tie, forgoe the tie and have your collar open instead, but keep everything else the same. Or, another idea, if blue jeans are too casual, how about a smart pair of black jeans?

The point is just to show some degree of casualness relative to what you usually wear, but something still within your personal range of preferences. There is no need to be completely business casual all at once. Just one step more casual will probably be enough.

8

I actually agree with all the other answers here, this is just another option

If your personal preference is to wear dressier clothes, and you don't feel comfortable (or perhaps don't own) in more casual clothes, I think you should just explain this to your team.

Don't get me wrong: I don't feel anyone should need to justify their clothing choice, but with this new policy in place it probably won't hurt:

Casual Friday allows you to wear more casual clothes outside the dress code; however, if doesn't mean you can't wear clothes conforming to the dress code. I myself will likely dress in casual business, but I encourage you all to wear whatever you feel comfortable in.

Addressing your team also helps those who are like you and don't wish to participate. Also consider what would happen if 90% of your team continued to dress in casual business, the others might feel like they're doing something wrong.


Alternatively, if you can put up with it, wear casual clothes for a few Fridays, and then in 6-8 weeks time once the trend has set in, switch back (you can do so slowly by having a business shirt, jeans and dress shoes, or polo jeans and dress shoes). I think you'll find most people don't pay a lot of attention to what others around them are wearing, and people won't notice the shift.

2

Presumably, casual Friday is there to let people wear something closer to what they'd personally prefer to wear. You can set the best example by wearing what you personally prefer to wear.

1

At one job, my manager's manager always appeared very, very well dressed. A lot better dressed than his manager in fact. This was in UK, in a company where many developers wouldn't even have clothes for US "business casual", but that was just his thing. If this had been in the USA, he wouldn't have dressed down on a "casual" Friday, nobody would have ever expected him to do it, and nobody would ever have followed the way he dressed.

If you are known for dressing better than "Business Casual" anyway, because that's the way you like to dress, then it is absolutely fine that you dress on "Casual Friday" exactly the way you like. If you have the feeling that someone misses out on "Casual Friday" because of you, then you can just ask them why they aren't dressing more casual.

1

There are two aspects to this:

1) It does not matter what you wear. What matters is that you are sincere and believable. If you are known for outstanding clothing all year out, it would be weird if you now come in a cowboy hat. If, on the other hand, it is noticable all year that you are only just achieving the usual dress code (from below), then by all means downgrade to your normal level. Being clothed uncomfortably is the worst that can happen to you. If that means you will not stoop to polos, then so be it.

2) You can downdress without lowering your level. For example, instead of just some junky polo, pick a very expensive and stylish cashmere pullover. Instead of foregoing your usual dress shirt, pick a white one with highly polished black buttons. Grab the brown Oxfords instead of the black ones. And so on.

Oh, and the 3rd point, mentioned by someone else already, but let me confirm it:

3) If you worry about anyone's approval, look to your boss and your peers; not your team. Presumably it was not you who created that new rule. That means you and your team are automatically on the same side of the fence, anyways.

0

Just communicate.

If you simply say that people "can" wear more casual clothes, instead of saying that people "must" wear more casual clothes, then many people will understand the difference.

For those who might not pick up on that, communicate explicitly. If you haven't announced this yet, simply include a clear statement in the original announcement: "Casual Friday is optional.Allstaff areabsolutelywelcome to participate."

If you've already instituted the date, you can simply include this in a follow-up message (spread through staff meeting, newsletter that everyone must read, whatever). Perhaps also mention the administration's reaction to how this turned out so far (e.g., "This turned out very well", or "here are the specific points that we need to make sure we keep in check"). And, at that time, make it very clear that people are clearly 100% welcome to participate in this optional event.

If everyone is welcome to do so, mention that. If some administration is supposed to have a different dress code, make sure to mention that all "front-line employees" (or whatever you call the lower tier) are welcome.

Besides comfort or other possible reasons of personal preference, there can be other reasons for wanting to dress up, including potentially interacting with people we may need to impress (during the morning or the middle of the afternoon, or perhaps during lunch), or after hours (for company purposes or for personal reasons). Presumably the people under you, whom you are concerned about being a role model for, are people to whom you should not need to justify your reasons. So, don't. Don't give them any justification besides "This is the choice I made." Just be sure they know that they are completely encouraged to participate (if that is actually the case). And when I say "be sure they know", I do mean, communicate that to them explicitly. Say it.

-1

You could use something a bit quirky to provide an icebreaker to bring the subject up and defuse any uncertainty.

My brother did something amusing for the Emmy Awards - He wore full black and white formal wear except for brilliant red doc martin boots! (Apparently there where a number of classic double take facial expressions as peoples glance took in the boots LOL). You would have to pick something that really stands out to do the opposite (nearly all casual apart from one formal thing).

Another idea would be to wear a casual soft baret hat, and keep in your pocket a few labels with velcro tape on the back. Then when you feel you need to have a formal discussion, whip out the "Serious" label and stick it on the hat and put the hat back on your head. Then you can wryly say ... now I have my serious hat on - with a smile but meaning it ...

(Or you can say "I take my hat off to you" and actually take it off when acknowledging good work or a good idea)

Depending on how much courage you have to break the ice for your team, you could have some other labels in your pocket. ("Confused", "Very" (In case they persist after the hint), "relaxed", "Happy", "Upset", "Thinking", etc etc there are lots of puns and sayings with 'hat' in them) ...

Have a bit of fun with the casual day, without disrespecting yourself or others ...

  • I didn't downvote, but can understand why others did. The OP comes from the viewpoint of a manager genuinely unsure how to dress; he did not say "I want to go as a clown but don't know how to do that with style". – AnoE Apr 10 '17 at 11:07
  • Using a bit of quirkiness deliberately in a business environment is a small but consistent part of the theme in agile management practises and is not uncommon in IT. Agile practises require courage because they are designed to put the spotlight on what is happening and get the team to face issues. I am guessing you and those that down voted either have not encountered those practises, have not researched if they work in practise, or just plain hate them. I don't know how you arrived at "clown" since going as a clown would not be respecting self, so that is obviously not my suggestion. – iheggie Apr 10 '17 at 18:35
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It is not only about the message you are sending to your direct reports, but to the executive team as well. If your direct reports see you do not follow Casual Friday it shows you do not support the executive team.

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    I don't understand this. If the executive team isn't mandating a casual Friday and giving employees the choice of wearing more casual clothing on Friday, how does someone exercising that choice show not supporting the executive team? – Thomas Owens Apr 7 '17 at 18:22
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    Things like 'casual Friday' are instigated by people who read books on management techniques. Just roll with it. Life's too short. And I'm SO glad I don't work in an office! – Laurence Payne Apr 8 '17 at 12:42
  • The question is about should a manager participate. If it was "mandated" then the question would be mute. I'm assuming the manager wants to be promoted and wants to set a good example for his direct reports, etc. There are plenty of non-mandated issues, like attending company picnics and various other HR related activities or executive programs. – Richard Feenstra Apr 8 '17 at 21:10
  • I believe you meant moot, not mute. – Mathieu Guindon Apr 10 '17 at 14:38

protected by Jane S Apr 9 '17 at 21:26

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