SALT LAKE CITY — The new millennium means a new everyday attire in today's workplace environment, a recent survey shows, trending away from the traditional shirt and tie to a more casual style.
According to an Employers Council’s miscellaneous benefits and pay practices survey, results from five surveys dating to 2009 indicated an overall shift toward a more casual workplace, as the everyday casual dress policy has become more prevalent.
Additionally, the number of respondents acknowledging a formal written appearance/dress code policy at their place of employment declined 4 percent since 2009.
One of those employers is Utah-based CHG Healthcare in Midvale. The nation's largest privately held health care staffing company has been named to Fortune magazine’s "Best Company to Work For" list for nine years in a row and has been sans a formal written dress policy for the past several years, explained Christine VanCampen, senior director of culture at CHG Healthcare.
"We had one historically, and we've gone from the earliest days of the company — suits and white shirts (for men) and skirts for ladies, kind of the standard business attire," she said. "(We) slowly just evolved from that."
She said the process happened over time and included some discussions of what was appropriate attire for the workplace and provided a suitable work environment.
"We just slowly over time realized that if we had a conversation where our values are guiding our approach to quality and professionalism (we could find a solution)," VanCampen said. "It's really simple, ‘Don't be offensive and don't be inappropriate.’ You need to be professional for the workplace, but that can be what's professional for you as long as it doesn't cross the line of being offensive to your colleagues."
With no official policy in the employee handbook, the company's leaders are asked to maintain an appropriate environment for people to work in, she said.
"We really do like to allow our people to express their individuality," VanCampen said. "We want them to be comfortable at work, so the way we approach dress is right in line with that."
People at the company can wear shorts and flip-flops if they do not interact with customers — like software developers that generally sit behind a computer most of the day, she said. However, people with other duties that require interpersonal interaction might be expected to maintain a more business-casual style of dress as needed, she added.
"From a generation perspective, there is this more casual approach to life in general and also from a business perspective," said Ryan Nelson, Utah president of Employers Council. "'Do I really need to wear a shirt and tie to accomplish what you want me to accomplish?' Sometimes not."
He said many companies are responding to this intellectual shift by allowing greater leniency in their dress code requirements, particularly if they want to attract and retain an increasingly millennial-age workforce.
"The dress code policy is just one example of adjustments that employers are making to attract that demographic and retain them as a quality employee," he said.
Nelson mentioned former Apple founder Steve Jobs as someone who made casual attire more normal in the everyday workplace.
"(He) made that kind of a dress code standard acceptable in a highly successful, highly productive, very cutting-edge company," he said. "The focus for him wasn't so much on how you looked but the output you produced that made you most valuable as an employer."
He said the survey data indicated that employers are drifting away from, "I want you to look the part" to "I want you to do the job."
"As long as you're appropriately dressed for the circumstances that you'll be engaged in, we're not too concerned about the suit and tie formality or business formal attire," he explained. "It's a shift toward performance-based expectations, not so much the dress code expectations."
While some employers may eschew a formal dress policy, others continue to use one as a way to maintain certain standards within the workplace.
The Western Electricity Coordinating Council has a 'dress for your day' policy, explained communications manager Julie Booth.
"It basically says you dress for what your (work) day looks like," she said.
With approximately 125 workers in Utah, the Salt Lake City-based nonprofit corporation advocates for a reliable bulk electric system in the geographic area known as the Western Interconnection. The WECC region includes the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, the northern portion of Baja California, Mexico, along with all or parts of 14 Western states in-between.
Booth said the organization requires employees who are meeting with people outside on the company's behalf to wear business casual to formal business attire, while those whose day-to-day responsibilities may be behind a desk, then they could wear khakis, jeans with a collared shirt.
"It's well-embraced here," she said. "Everybody loves it." One exception is when employees attend the council's quarterly board of directors meeting, they must wear business attire with everyone else in the office wearing business casual attire that day, she noted.16 comments on this story
She said the shift away from the traditional business dress was part of the organization's attempt to change its culture to fit the changing times. Over the past few years, the shift has been welcomed and created a more relaxed yet productive environment, she said.
"This is all wrapped up into one big culture (transformation) initiative where productivity is a great byproduct of it," Booth said. "Everybody loves it and at this point, we actually use it as one of our selling points when we recruit."