Can we please concentrate on what matters at work? And it’s not clothes.

My friend’s company was just acquired. The new owners insist that the formerly jeans-and-T-shirt culture be replaced by khakis. People are up in arms, it’s impacting morale, and I’m amazed.

What I’m amazed at is not that people resent being told how to dress; I’m amazed that employers still think it’s important. It’s the 21st century, people. We worship at the altar of Productivity. We sacrifice tens of thousands of employees yearly to the God of Efficiency.

What does a dress code have to do with Efficiency and Productivity? Why not let people wear whatever will make them most comfortable, creative, and able to do their job?

One can argue that client-facing employees need to dress up because clients expect that. Maybe yes, maybe no. Clients expect suits because they’re trained to expect suits. Suits give the illusion of competence. What really matters, though, is the reality of competence.

How about have client-facing employees do their job really, really well and train clients to expect extreme competence instead? (Probably because it’s a lot easier to force employees to dress up than it is to give them the training and support they need to do a good job.)

And by the way: I’m a client. I hire lots of consultants and freelancers. And I prefer they not dress up. First, it’s bad business for me to judge them on appearance and not the quality of their work. I’m paying for results, and the more I am influenced by irrelevant aspects of the relationship, the more I risk losing objectivity about whether they’re delivering. But more to the point, if they dress up, I feel like I have to dress up when we meet. And that would certainly be inconvenient, wouldn’t it?

But why stop there? Let’s get even more radical. Perhaps the purpose of life is to live a full, happy life as a human being. Perhaps part of that full happy life is expressing onesself and one’s identity through clothes, neighborhood, behavior, etc. Perhaps we can let people wear what will make them happy, whether or not it affects their job performance. If it affects performance, deal with it as “you’re not meeting your goals” discussion, and the employee can decide to change their attire.

We live in the most technologically advanced civilization in human history. We have more variety and choice than people could have conceived of a century ago, much less enjoyed. And somehow, we want to squish people in business into self-expression chosen from just three alternatives: suits, khakis, or jeans… khakis preferred.

If you’ve read this far, please, reclaim your world. Be a human. Be yourself. Produce what you’re capable of producing. Live what you’re capable of living. Ask not, “Should I wear a suit to work today?” Ask instead, “How much will today’s work help me be more of who I am?” … then wear a loincloth. You’ll get noticed.

Can we please concentrate on what matters at work?…

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