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Which do you prefer: jeans or cash?

This seemingly insignificant question was the subject of a new study released by Dutch HR consulting firm Randstad on Tuesday. And the results were fascinating.

The firm surveyed 1,204 employed Americans across the country, and found that 33 percent of employees would prefer an informal dress code to an extra $5,000 per year in salary. Randstad's press release led with that stat, and headlines across the internet followed suit.

It seems a bit misleading to me. People who prefer an informal dress code to a bigger paycheck clearly don't have an informal dress code already. They're probably in an industry where suits and ties are still the norm, though those are on the decline. The study even confirms: 79 percent of respondents say their offices have dress codes ranging from business casual to nonexistent.

I'd rather focus on a second stat from the study. The same number of people--33 percent--said they'd quit their job if their employers suddenly required them to follow a strict dress code.

Now, that's interesting.

It's one thing to sacrifice hypothetical money you aren't already making. It's another to say you'd abandon your livelihood if your employer asked you to dress sharper, and while 33 percent isn't a majority, it's still a pretty hefty percentage. 

If you're the boss, that's worth considering--and perhaps treading lightly on the subject of dress codes. Changing things up in your workplace could be interpreted as a bigger deal than you likely intend.

There are, of course, situations in which you need to step in. If an employee is dressing so sloppily that he is distracting a significant portion of your office or affecting the public perception of your company, it's probably time to have a conversation. Be firm and be polite. 

And consider taking a cue from General Motors CEO Mary Barra, who revised her company's previously 10-page dress code last year as part of bureaucracy-cutting initiative. In the process, she avoided stepping into the role of fashion police, a position no one really wants or needs to hold. The new dress code is exactly two words: "Dress appropriately."

The brilliance of this approach, according to Barra: "The big 'a-ha' was that you need to make sure your managers are empowered, because if they can't handle 'dress appropriately,' what other judgment decisions are they not making?"

Would that policy work at your company? Send me an email and do tell.

Published on: Aug 29, 2019