Despite some reports that the dot-com depression and a Republican presidency is fuelling a trend towards conservatism and smarter dress in the US, liberal dress attitudes appear to prevail in New Zealand IT.
Recruitment consultancy Robert Walters suggests casual dress may even be becoming more common. Danielle Honore from Robert Walters’ Auckland office says what originally began as jeans Friday has in many workplaces expanded to “smart casual” every day of the week. Many IT firms even stress casual dressing as a selling point to attract workers, she says.
The relaxed dress style is itself a product of the dot-com age, which saw many bosses in their 20s and 30s, whose values have spread. Casual dress has since extended into more conservative professions such as law and accounting.
“Studies have shown that casual dress can increase productivity because comfortable, relaxed employees will work harder and longer at their job. It gives a company a competitive advantage — at no cost,” says Honore.
However, Robert Walters says management must be careful to ensure professionalism and corporate image is upheld.
Reflecting this point, Honore says a large IT services company in Auckland recently returned to wearing suits. “The senior management team took the lead and there has been a marked improvement in the attitude of staff and a restored sense of pride in the workplace.” Although she acknowledges this is only one example, “it is a reminder that everything must be held in balance”.
Companies spoken to by Computerworld show casual dress generally is king, unless an employee’s key role is to meet customers.
ANZ head of business e-commerce Greg Dyer says bank staff have to “dress and groom themselves in a manner befitting the professional standards of the bank”.
For staff dealing face to face with customers that means jacket and tie for men and their equivalents for women. For those with no face-to-face contact smart casual is fine, which usually means a shirt but no tie for men. This policy was brought in last year and is used by many staff, including Dyer.
David Allen, general manager of reservation system trainers Sabre Pacific, confirms casual dress has spread worldwide in his organisation. “For sales, though, it is still a matter of dressing how the customer would want to see you, not how you would like them to see you,” he says.
Auckland software firm RPK NZ general manager Paul Osborne says his firm operates in casual dress all the time and it doesn’t affect productivity in the slightest. “In fact, I’m the only one who wears a tie; the developers have been kind enough to let me do that,” he says.
Honore agrees that employees with client contact should wear business attire, as well as those who can be seen by clients in the course of everyday business. “Appearance says a lot about a person, especially when you are meeting someone for the first time.”