BIG CORPORATE houses have always been known for proposing and enforcing a strict dress code. For men, it would typically mean a suit, tie and formal shoes. As for women, it would spell out to suits, slacks and skirts of appropriate length or saris if it’s Indian-wear we are talking about.
But all that seems to be somewhat changing. As offices try to don a more relaxed outlook and increase efficiency among employees—besides battle attrition—several corporates are now turning to a more relaxed form of what typically constitutes work-wear in India. Casual Friday, popularised in the 1990s by a Levi’s Dockers ad campaign, has now given way to everyday casual. Three-piece suits and formal trousers have been usurped by collared shirts and skinny jeans—often all the way up the corporate chain.
In July last year, business attire gave way to a more casual style of dressing at tech company Lenovo India. Employees at the firm’s offices across the country were allowed to wear business casuals, including but not limited to shirts, T-shirts with collars, jeans for men, and dresses, skirts and casual trousers for women. “Last year, Lenovo unveiled a new brand identity, the theme of which was ‘never stand still’. It encompasses the identity of Lenovo’s thought—being energetic, agile and unconventional. To translate the new branding into a way of working, we decided changing to a more relaxed way of dressing, as we want employees to be more comfortable at work and be at their productive best. We don’t want them to consider the day of the week while making that early-morning decision,” says Rohit Sandal, director, HR, Lenovo India.
Lenovo was following in the footsteps of IT services company Infosys and FMCG major Hindustan Unilever in relaxing the employee dress code. Only a few days before Lenovo’s announcement, Hindustan Unilever, known to have had a strict dress regime at one time, came up with a policy change that allows its employees to go casual at work. This marked a major cultural change for the Indian subsidiary of the Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever, where senior managers, not too long ago, were seen sporting formal business attires—shirts with ties and jackets.
A month earlier, in June 2015, Infosys had decided to do away with its ‘dress code’ as part of the employee engagement programmes initiated by CEO Vishal Sikka. As per the new move, the company started allowing employees to adorn ‘casual-wear’ for work. Till then, Friday was the only day when employees were allowed to wear casuals. The company had always followed a mandatory dress code for employees, which demanded that they wear formal clothes with a tie for the first two days of the week followed by smart casuals the next two days. “Across our multiple internal engagement and communication platforms, employees had voiced their opinion on professional dressing. Taking their feedback into account, we incorporated it in our ‘dressing for work’ guidelines. We believe that each of our employees is empowered to make the right decision regarding the dress code and dress in a way that will make Infosys proud,” says Richard Lobo, senior vice-president and head, HR, Infosys.
At BPO services provider Genpact, Friday dressing is not just limited to that day—it’s a norm for other days of the week as well. The firm allows employees to wear jeans, corduroys, khakis, trousers, professional skirts, collared T-shirts, business casual tops and shirts. This is besides formal traditional clothing like sari, salwar-kameez, etc. “It was August 2015 and we heard some employees saying they wished to come to office even on a Monday wearing jeans and tees. So our CHRO (chief human resources officer) Piyush Mehta asked employees through an online poll if every day should feel like a Friday (strictly in terms of the dress code, though). We received an overwhelming response… more than 90% people enthusiastically voted for the change. If a relaxed dress code can make people feel more productive and comfortable in the workplace, then why not?” says a spokesperson of the company. However, Genpact employees are advised to avoid ‘inappropriate’ work-wear like shorts or capris, T-shirts with inappropriate slogans, torn, frayed or wrinkled clothes, flashy clothes with sequins or crystals and beach-wear like caps, bandanas and flip-flops.
Consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) recently introduced some key changes in its dress code as well. As per the new move, male employees are no longer mandatorily required to wear ties daily unless meeting clients. “In the professional services industry, we have for long followed a traditional dress code, but as more and more millennials join our work family, we understand that their needs and aspirations are very different. Over time, we have tried to create a more engaging and comfortable environment for our employees and this reflects in their dressing as well,” says Jagjit Singh, chief people officer, PwC India.
In a blog post on Virgin.com, high-profile billionaire Richard Branson had once written, “Making people wear suits and ties at any time of year makes very little sense. It’s an antiquated tradition we have somehow clung on to, despite very few people enjoying it.”
Today, nearly one-third of companies around the world allow casual-wear every day, as per PwC’s Work-Life 3.0 report released recently. “Looser regulation around dress codes leads to greater personal comfort, and with it, employee satisfaction, or so the thinking goes,” the report said. Understandably, since its announcement last year, Lenovo India has seen great merit in its new dress code, or rather the lack of it. “The well-being of employees is directly related to the extent the organisation trusts them. In terms of dressing, every day is a Friday for us, which benefits the morale. In short, we want all employees to be comfortable at work,” says Sandal of Lenovo India. “It is heartening to see employees walk into office in casual clothing not stifled by any dress code. Smart casuals have also brought in more liveliness in the form of colours and energy—a pleasing atmosphere for everyone to work in,” he adds.
With the market getting extremely competitive, “we have to look at ways to get more ingenious about attracting and retaining talent, and this is a step in that direction”, as per Singh of PwC India.
As per the spokesperson of Genpact, the simple idea behind their new dress code was to help people dress smarter, be happier and work better. “How easily people have taken to the new dress code and the resultant rise in our overall ‘happiness index’ is proof of how well this has worked. Happy employees make a happy workplace,” he concludes.
It is heartening to see employees walk into office in casual clothing not stifled by any dress code. Smart casuals have also brought in more liveliness in the form of colours and energy—a pleasing atmosphere for everyone to work in: Rohit Sandal, director, HR, Lenovo India
Wear & tear: How other sectors fare
* In July, the Centre banned imposition of ‘discriminatory rules’ against women students like dress codes
* In July, 250 students at Bannerghatta Road campus of Christ University, Bengaluru, staged a silent protest; among the issues of discontent was a strict dress code
* In April, New Delhi’s Hindu College asked women students to wear clothes as per the ‘normal norm of society’; the college had to withdraw in face of protests
*In April, Bar Council of India (BCI) issued circular to law schools emphasising the need to implement a uniform dress code for students
* The BCI move came just a few days after a professor of National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, allegedly shamed a girl for turning up in shorts for a lecture
In the professional services industry, we have for long followed a traditional dress code, but as more and more millennials join our work family, we understand that their needs and aspirations are very different. With the market getting extremely competitive, we have to look at ways to get more ingenious about attracting and retaining talent, and this is a step in that direction: Jagjit Singh, chief people officer, PwC India
Across our multiple internal engagement and communication platforms, employees had voiced their opinion on professional dressing. Taking their feedback into account, we incorporated it in our ‘dressing for work’ guidelines: Richard Lobo, senior vice-president & head, HR, Infosys