Wal-Mart is the latest company to consider a more casual workplace dress code. And while such a move may be geared toward attracting job applicants, it’s also leaving workers confused.
The big-box retailer is testing a new, more relaxed dress code in some of its stores. Workers in those locations can now wear solid blue jeans and shirts of any solid color, according to a new employee manual obtained by Bloomberg News. Previously, workers could wear jeans only if they were black or khaki. The company also restricted store employees to wearing blue or white shirts.
‘With a tight labor market, employers are thinking of what they can do to entice workers in a variety of ways.’
“We are always testing new ideas and concepts in a small number of our stores,” a spokesperson for Wal-Mart WMT, -1.01% told MarketWatch. “We won’t know next steps on this test until we’ve had a chance to learn what works and what could work better.”
The company is taking other steps to attract workers, including raising its starting hourly wage and expanding its parental leave policy. “With a tight labor market, employers are thinking of what they can do to entice workers in a variety of ways,” said Vicki Salemi, career expert at jobs website Monster.com. “The dress code definitely factors into this.”
Indeed, the share of employers offering casual dress as a benefit to workers has grown in step with the tightening of the job market. Today, 44% of employers allow casual clothing in the workplace every day, up from 34% in 2013, according to a report from the Society for Human Resources Management.
Allowing a more relaxed wardrobe helps companies avoid the expenses associated with hiring a new employee.
To an extent, Walmart is late to this trend. While JPMorgan Chase JPM, -0.48% doesn’t let workers wear jeans, the bank changed its dress code in 2016 to allow some employees to ditch the suit and tie. And the Walt Disney Company DIS, -0.09% amended the so-called “Disney Look” back in 2012 for its theme park staff to allow men to grow beards.
Why employers aren’t so buttoned-up anymore
Though the shift away from much more formal business attire began in the 1970s, the tech culture formed in Silicon Valley with the advent of companies like Apple AAPL, -0.29% and Microsoft MSFT, +0.37% helped to accelerate this change, The Atlantic reported.
Nowadays, successful business leaders in the mold of Facebook FB, -0.26% CEO Mark Zuckerberg are helping to popularize an especially casual office wardrobe. “The start-up culture has influenced the way people dress at work, as has working from home,” Salemi said.
But for companies, this shift isn’t just about staying fashionable (in a literal sense) — it’s also about happiness. Studies have shown that happier workers are more productive as well. So allowing a more relaxed wardrobe helps companies avoid the expenses associated with hiring a new employee, said Jennifer Zweig, regional vice president of staffing firm OfficeTeam.
A casual dress code is free to the employer. It doesn’t have to be a cost to the employer, but it’s seen as a luxury to the employee.
“If workers are in an environment they’re more comfortable in, they tend to want to stay at those companies,” Zweig said.
Better yet — these benefits are free to the employer. “It doesn’t have to be a cost to the employer, but it’s seen as a luxury to the employee,” said Nicole Belyna, manager of recruiting at Thompson Creek Window Company, based in the Washington, D.C. area. The company recently adopted a casual dress code after a successful test run last summer.
For workers, relaxed dress codes don’t always make sense
Workers may be attracted to the flashiness of a casual office dress code, but it can also leave them with a sense of confusion once it’s put in place. While 56% of workers said they prefer a more relaxed work wardrobe, according to a survey by OfficeTeam, 41% said they were sometimes not sure whether their clothing was actually appropriate for the office.
‘I have seen instances where people were told to go home and change because they were too casual.’
As a result, that same survey found than 48% of workers would prefer to wear a uniform if it meant reducing the questions surrounding what is OK to wear to work.
For those unsure of what to wear, particularly to a new job, Salemi recommended they scour their employee handbook for any description of a dress code. And when it doubt, she advised that a new employee dress more conservatively at the start of a new job and take time to get a sense of what others are wearing.
“No one will ever really send you home from the office for being too formal, but I have seen instances where people were told to go home and change because they were too casual,” she said.
There will still be times when it’s better to dress up. “We did see Mark Zuckerberg in a suit for the first time” Belyna said. In that case, however, he was testifying before Congress.