You Are What You Wear

Carter Brannan

Are casual Fridays a good incentive for productive workers in a traditional work environment? Some may argue that casual Fridays result in happier employees, which leads to better performance in the workplace. Others may argue the more casual you dress in the workplace, the more casual your attitude will be toward your work. It seems each year more and more companies are transitioning to casual Fridays for all five workdays. Are companies doing this because it creates a more productive environment or are they doing it to keep up with the trends and to attract more millennials? Angie Diaz, director of culture and patient experience at Baptist Health South Florida, claims that, “Millennials have seen Mark Zuckerberg in his T-shirts and jeans, and they believe what you wear does not define how successful you are going to be or whether it will impact business.” [1] Unfortunately, not all millennials are going to be a Mark Zuckerberg, and the way they dress will, in fact, affect their productivity at work.

When offered an incentive, most people would gear their efforts to earn the incentive. Incentives do not always lead to positive outcomes, but despite that, “incentives matter.” [2] Charles Wheelan, author of Naked Economics, states, “The wonder of the private sector, of course, is that incentives magically align themselves in ways that make everyone better off. Right? Well, not exactly. From top to bottom, corporate America is a cesspool of competing and misaligned incentives.” 2 When incentives do not “magically align themselves to make everyone better off”, they are called, “perverse incentives.” Charles Wheelan defines perverse incentives as, “The inadvertent incentives that can be created when we set out to do something completely different. In policy circles, this is sometimes called the ‘law of unintended consequences.’” 2 Simply stated, it means having good intentions, can lead to a bad outcome. In this case, casual Fridays lead to perverse incentives because the employer has good intentions to make their employees happier, but the outcome leads to the employees less focused and less productive.

The consequences of casual Fridays in the workforce has been dissected and criticized by industry individuals and in targeted studies. According to CBS News, “studies have found that executives believe attire affects productivity and can hinder career advancement. And a few years back, a poll found that tardiness and absenteeism increased at companies that adopted dress-down policies.” [3] Laura Harris, an executive explained how her nonchalant dress caused a decrease in company enthusiasm and productivity. 3 Sloppy dress leads to sloppy work. Forbes Magazine did a study where the research reflected that, “your alertness is affected by what you wear.” [4] The Forbes research concluded that, “The influence of clothes depends on wearing them and their symbolic meaning.” 4 If an employee is wearing jeans and a t-shirt at work and jeans and a t-shirt on the weekend, it is hard to “…differentiate between your ‘work self’ and ‘weekend self’.” By wearing the same clothes to work and on the weekends, people are mixing business and pleasure, “Does it mean you’re in work mode 24/7? Or conversely, are you likely to always be in play mode finding it harder to be productive?.” 4 This research supports casual Fridays are not a good workplace incentive.

[1] Goodman, Cindy Krischer. “Workers Are Dressing More Casually. Does That Affect Productivity?” Miami Herald. July 17, 2016. Accessed October 19, 2016.

[2] Wheelan, Charles J. Naked Economics: Undressing The Dismal Science. New York: Norton, 2002.

[3] Holland, CC. “Does Casual Dress Affect Productivity?” CBS News. September 10, 2008. Accessed October 19, 2016.

[4] Tulshyan, Ruchika. “Is Casual Dress Killing Your Productivity At Work?” Forbes. October 17, 2013. Accessed October 19, 2016.



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