MUCH has been written about the perceived benefits and burdens of wearing business-casual clothing. Some of the more commonly touted benefits include a lack of cost to the employer, more open communication between staff and managers, and cost savings to employees as casual business wear is less expensive.
"Nevertheless, pitfalls may also exist when employees are allowed to wear casual clothing on dress-down Fridays. Staff may be confused about what is acceptable attire, and may interpret the word 'casual' too loosely and wear inappropriate clothing," says Wendy Lee, professional image consultant, director of Chapter One Asia and president of the Malaysian Association of Brand and Image Consultants (MABIC).
"Casual clothing, with its diverse styles, lacks the uniformity and conformity associated with traditional business wear. This may cause some to look or feel less presentable in professional situations. They may not be taken seriously or seen as ineffective when dressed casually.
"When the professional image of the employee is compromised, it may lead to loss of business as clients may feel they are too casual to be entrusted with their business."
It's been reported that the complaint by one-third of employers polled in New York was that dress-down Fridays led to a huge increase in flirtatiousness among their staff.
Lee says the question is not so much as to whether dress-down Fridays is an acceptable practice or not, but more of where do we draw the line so as not to turn business-casual into business casualty.
"One of the easiest ways is for companies to define business-casual clearly. Human resource personnel need to pen down guidelines, preferably with pictorial illustrations. And when setting guidelines, companies need to bear in mind that even rules that are common sense may not be obvious to everyone."
Color & Style principal image consultant Cynthia Soh believes that dress-down Fridays have become quite disastrous.
"Offices around the world are questioning and complaining about the whole concept, in fact a lot of companies are banishing it. This is mainly because people don't really understand what it means.
"When dress-down Friday started it was to allow employees the opportunity to be more creative, to work in a more relaxed environment. It was meant to be one day in a week where employees and bosses could mingle as peers.
"Unfortunately today, many employees misunderstand the concept, they use this one day to let loose with their dressing, with some even coming in to work with Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops."
She says there are basic rules to dress-down Fridays which every employee should adhere to.
"There are some clear cut no-nos, such as wearing shirts with offensive wordings or bold logos. Guys can come in with a loose shirt and cardigan, loafers are also a good idea but not sneakers. If meeting clients you need to decide what image you want to project, it's crucial to look neat and presentable. Guys should always make sure their pants, belts, socks and shoes are in one solid colour.
"Girls should be cautious about dressing too sexy or wearing bright colours which will make themselves and others feel uncomfortable while leggings should be of a lighter colour than the skirt."
Some companies have tried to solve this problem by introducing uniforms. However, most employees of such establishments become demoralised and de-motivated.
"Uniforms are basically to allow people to identify you and to promote unity, unfortunately the colour and style of a uniform can't possibly flatter all employees. Organisations should look at introducing more subtle must-wear items like lanyards, ties or scarves.
"Many companies which force employees to wear uniforms end up with disgruntled workers. Can you blame them if they're forced to put on a uniform which resembles those worn by fast food chain staff?
"With such uniformity there's also a tendency for employees to pass the buck, this is when social loafing occurs -- a tendency of individuals to put forth less effort when they are part of a group."