The pandemic has led to many people ditching more formal wear as they work from home on a more regular basis, and even taking a more casual approach when they do work in the office.
But now, new research, backed by a leading psychologist, suggests that peak professional performance is not necessarily linked to comfort, despite the new-found habits of many workers during Britain’s numerous pandemic lockdowns.
“There’s still power in that suit,” insists top psychologist Lee Chambers, as businesses start to relax their dress codes and smart, business casual leads the way instead.
The survey, carried out by menswear brand Charles Tyrwhitt, suggests that it’s not all ‘elasticated waistbands and dressing down’ in Britain’s offices, despite the growing trend for casual.
Although the study revealed that half (50%) of workers have returned to the office to the sight of a more relaxed dress code compared to before the pandemic, the timeless suit and shirt still lead the way when it comes to making a strong first impression.
More than 65% of men believe this and almost a third feel more productive when they’re dressed smartly. I for one completely agree with this trial of thought.
A few years ago, a survey conducted by a commercial property agency found that 31% of people would feel uncomfortable about the idea of tattooed estate agents, but a much greater proportion (69%) would feel comfortable.
Meanwhile, in August 2019, a veteran large estate agent – David Alexander – got hot under the collar about a London firm which had ordered its negotiators and other staff to not wear ties, arguing that banning ties was not the answer. It generated quite a debate in the industry at the time about whether suit and ties were necessary anymore.
The London agency in question, James Pendleton, had ordered its staff not to wear ties, describing them as ‘old school’ and no longer good for business. To hammer home the point, agency founder Lee Pendleton posed for photographs cutting staff ties in two.
There hasn’t been much research about how consumers view agents and their attire, but some have argued that as consumers embrace casual more and more – even more so since the pandemic – their expectations of professionals and formal attire may also reduce. Others, however, argue that it gives off the wrong impression and makes it harder for agents to gain respect and credibility among clients.
Chambers, the psychologist at the heart of the research, said: ”The balance between formality and comfort has certainly become a pressing challenge over the past 18 months, and while there is an increased appetite for casual dress codes, the benefits of what we call enclothed cognition, come when we feel confident in our attire and feel that it represents working environments.”
“Feeling dressed for work puts us in a psychological state where we can attach to our tasks, perform optimally and step forward confidently. It also gives us fewer worries about how we may be perceived, and fewer decisions to make on whether we are smart enough for the hybrid way of working, and these concerns can drain our brainpower, making us less productive.”
Given agency’s customer-facing status – albeit much less than once was the case – and a perceived sense of formality in the industry, it is the case that most in the sector still wear formal clothes to work and on viewings.
But has this changed since the pandemic? And are agency owners now more relaxed about what their employees wear, even on viewings? Is the age of business casual now with us or does formal dress win out?
Kristjan Byfield, well-known in the industry for co-founding agency with a difference base property specialists, told EAT: “It won’t surprise anyone to hear that I haven’t been an advocate of formal business wear for a long time. I have long believed that your knowledge and expertise speak much louder than any outfit … Amen to this Kristjan!
“That said, if you’re one of five agents valuing a property, would you rather fade in to the grey or stand out. What I’m a true advocate of, however, is no mandated dress code at all – do the job in whatever makes you feel most comfortable and awesome. If that’s a 3-piece pinstripe suit and loud tie, awesome. If it’s shorts and T-shirt, that’s great. If it’s designer jeans, a nice shirt and some incredible footwear, brilliant!
“You do whatever helps you shine, or whatever helps your business shine!”
Marc von Grundherr, director of Benham and Reeves, has a very different take: “Formality is extremely important when handling a transaction as significant as a property purchase. Appearance is just one aspect that combines with many others to provide a truly professional approach and all of our staff are required to dress as such, including ties.
“This is no different when conducting any external meetings from home via Zoom or by any other means for that matter. We regularly hold virtual meetings with potential foreign buyers and sellers and so our staff are expected to conduct themselves as they would in a face-to-face meeting with a domestic client.
“To argue that a flexible working arrangement in a post-pandemic environment would impact this seems very strange. If anything, a professional approach to appearance is more vital than ever to help maintain the boundaries between work and home life.”
Where do you stand in this debate?
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