Walk the CBD streets at lunchtime any day of the week and you’ll have a hard time finding a matching top and bottom, let alone an ironed shirt or suit and tie. The tone of corporate attire has evolved – and maybe that’s just what we need.
Corporate uniforms serve multiple purposes within an organization. As a branding vehicle, uniforms can be the first branded point of contact for your customer or serve as a subtle reinforcement. They are also an important employee engagement strategy as they build team cohesion and loyalty.
Instead of a mental ball and chain reminding that “big brother is watching,” a modern uniform should exude a sense of pride and offer positive affirmation to the employee who wears it every day. This upbeat energy reflects the company’s business ethics and is extremely beneficial to their branding.
The baby boomers accepted the uniform as the status quo with little resistance. Gen Xers have worked hard to change the corporate mindset, introducing casual Fridays and a focus on employee engagement over corporate policies.
Receive daily business news.
The latest stories, financing information and expert tips. Register for free.
Then there are the Millennials and more recently the Zoomers. The youngest participants in our workforce often have a bad reputation. Bad work ethic. No loyalty. Wanting everything without feeling belated gratification. However, the nagging complaints of older generations are not entirely unbiased: Millennials and Zoomers, from a different perspective, are simply better at expressing their needs, setting professional boundaries, and asserting their rights and self-worth. Should they wear a uniform? Only on their terms.
A cohort that is expressing themselves confidently and demanding more of themselves, this new generation of your team (although “new” might be a misnomer: many millennials are reaching their 40s, they already make up about 50% of the workforce, and that’s still to come increase to around 75% by 2025) can all teach us a thing or two about the power of appreciating the individual.
Millennials and Gen Z are hungry for growth; They thrive on information and absorb it quickly (millennials grew up on the internet and Gen Z was born with an iPad in hand). When looking for their first or next career step, they evaluate the employer and the workplace. They seek an environment where they learn and feel valued, where their individual expression is valued, and where they can maintain a healthy work-life balance. An organization with a social conscience is even more attractive.
A change in “work clothes”
This dramatic change in our workforce has brought about a dramatic change in what counts as “workwear”. I run a unified design house that dresses more than 300,000 people across Australia every day and have lived this change – and embraced it with open arms.
Now more than ever, uniforms honor the employees who wear them. Employers give their employees a voice in the conception and consultation phase of a uniform plan. We learn how individuals move and function in their roles. We look at diversity in the workplace to match the styling preferences of a multi-generational and multi-faceted workforce.
The millennial nod to individuality and self-expression has allowed fashion to play a more central role within corporate attire. It is critical to create a uniform that can be tailored to a person’s shape and cut preferences. We create “core pieces” to mix and match with the rest of the range, bringing color and fun with seasonal uniform updates that may be swapped out every 3-6 months. We are also seeing organizations updating their uniforms more frequently, refreshing them regularly and overhauling them every three years.
The workforce changes, as do the customers and clients. Social media has undoubtedly cemented its dominance across all industries, introducing greater awareness of corporate accountability – an angry review can reach hundreds of thousands of eyes before you even have a chance to respond to it – and so uniform is being harnessed as a visual opportunity too Communicate core values in the customer relationship.
A classic example is clothing in the banking sector. Ten years ago, if you walked into a branch, it was clearly gender-specific suits with branded ties, stockings and heels. Now the look is much more relaxed, with mix-and-match separates. Softshell jackets, blouses instead of shirts and ties are optional. This shift isn’t just about the employee and their needs, it’s about telling the customer, “We’re approachable, we’re easy-going, and we’re just like you.”
Working with Ford Motor Group, we were challenged to turn the car salesman stereotype on its head. We met resistance when we pitched the idea that car salespeople should ditch the suit and tie and instead switch to a relaxed plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up. As the client continued to have doubts about the switch, we delved deeper into our industry research and shared our insights: Since the client was less likely to be in a suit to the appointment, clothing that matched their level would boost confidence and break down barriers.
Adding more style and individuality to workplace uniforms was not an overnight change as all organizations required retraining. We are only now entering an exciting era where companies value not only what makes their employees feel empowered and respected, but also what customer needs and expectations exist and how uniformity can support them.