At some of the largest accounting firms in the US, managers are adopting dress codes that are low on formality and high on comfort.
Armanino LLP, a firm based in San Ramon, California, unveiled its new policy in April, and employees are enthusiastically trading in their suits and wingtips for jeans and loafers.
“We saw an opportunity to reflect how the workplace is changing, and we wanted to enact positive change for our employees,” said Kevin Turco, senior manager of internal communications at Armanino. “We believe we can be professional and comfortable at the same time.”
Crowe Horwath LLP initiated a policy allowing casual clothing in addition to a mobile workforce initiative in December. Firm personnel who are working in the office and not meeting with clients are allowed to dress casually and wear jeans any day of the week.
Julie Wood, chief people officer at Crowe Horwath, said her firm has been exploring options for providing its people with flexible work options to achieve a better work/life balance in today’s hectic, technology-driven environment. In a survey of the firm’s workforce last fall, casual attire was ranked the most important workforce amenity.
“The top thing they indicated they really enjoyed and wanted was the ability to dress casually in the office, especially when they are sitting at their workstations, being comfortable, being engaged, and being productive,” she said.
These firms are keeping pace with a trend seen in many office environments. A survey conducted by OfficeTeam, a Robert Half company, shows that employees are forsaking the formal attire that was a workplace staple five years ago. Further, 31% of surveyed employees responded they would prefer working at a company with a business casual dress code, and an additional 27% favoured a completely casual dress code or no dress code at all.
Embracing the change
The idea of casual office attire is not foreign to Armanino’s team. The firm had long maintained a Monday through Thursday business casual environment, with Friday reserved for jeans casual. The entire firm embraced the change, which was instituted by the firm’s executive committee.
Now the staff is invited to wear jeans five days a week, with guidelines that require proper fit, appropriate footwear, neatness, and cleanliness.
Armanino, with offices in California, Oregon, and Illinois, announced its new dress code using a humourous employee video starring senior tax accountant Sean Taylor as “Jimmy,” who tries a variety of inappropriate clothes before he finally emerges in full compliance with the new guidelines for casual office attire.
“Our employees received the video very well,” Turco said. “The news itself was fun and exciting, and the video was a great way to announce the new dress code to the firm.”
The instructions in the video are reinforced through written guidelines in Armanino’s employee handbook.
Part of Armanino’s strategy in implementing the dress code change was to reflect the firm’s modern image, Turco said.
“It is written into our DNA to be innovative, forward-thinking, and progressive,” he said. “We express this view through our dress code. We believe our employees can be both professional and comfortable.”
The employees at Crowe Horwath are equally happy with their new dress code.
“With our change in dress, the level of excitement and feedback from our people has been really phenomenal,” Wood said. “And it’s amazing how a seemingly simple thing goes such a long way.”
The firm even has had queries from job candidates based on the new dress code. That’s a welcome development for the firm amid the current environment of intense competition for talent.
Turco said Armanino’s clients also appear to appreciate the change. Armanino serves clients in Silicon Valley, where an entrepreneurial workforce often is more focused on technology than office fashion.
“Our clients seem to like the change, especially the tech companies,” Turco said. “They have a relaxed dress code, and that helps the staff align with clients as well.”
At Crowe Horwath, employees have a backup plan for days when they face an unexpected encounter with a client or a prospect.
“On any given day, you never know when a client meeting may come up or you have an unexpected opportunity to grab lunch with a prospect in the market,” Wood said. “In our South Bend (Indiana) office, they cleared out a closet for people to bring in a suit so when those situations do come up, they are prepared.”
As part of its survey report, OfficeTeam offered a list of general tips for employees to follow when they choose the casual clothes they plan to wear to work on a given day. Generally, it all boils down to comfort and professionalism.
If there is a written dress code, abide by it. Also consider what your manager and co-workers wear, and use that information to guide your choices. But mostly, make sure your clothes fit well. If you are uncomfortable in your outfit, it will show.
—Teri Saylor (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer based in Raleigh, North Carolina.