It was 4:30 pm on a Thursday, I had just finished my last call for the day, I hadn’t showered, and I was still in my pajamas. I looked at my to-do list and wasn’t impressed with what I had accomplished. If I was being honest with myself, my engagement was pretty low. I had to do something to jump-start my personal engagement, so the next day I wore a suit – tie, waistcoat, shoes… the whole nine yards. It worked wonders. 


What the Data Says 

It turns out that my experience was not unique. There is a significant amount of research that shows that the way we dress impacts not only on the way that we are perceived by others, but also the way that we perceive ourselves. One study showed that individuals who wore a white coat and were told it was a lab coat – dress that is associated with precision – saw an improvement in performance over a different group of people who wore the same coat but were told it was a “painter’s” coat.Other people didn’t perceive them differently – they perceived themselves differently. Another study found that individuals who dressed in business attire achieved more successful outcomes in negotiations than individuals who dressed in casual attire.ii In yet another study, researchers found that individuals who wore formal clothing performed better at certain abstract and cognitive tests than when wearing casual clothing.iii 

It's Not You, It’s Me  

What is interesting about this research is that the findings show that the way we dress influences the way we view ourselves. Typically, when people talk about dress codes, it’s put in the context of how others will view us. Oftentimes the rationale given for bankers wearing suits and ties is that customers will view them as being more professional and more trustworthy. Similarly, insurance executives dress formally to convey a sense of stability to their customers. However, research shows that the way people dress conveys a sense of professionalism, trustworthiness, and stability to the individuals who are wearing the dress as much as it conveys these attributes to those who view us. 

The COVID-19 stay at home orders has redefined the way that we work and engage with each other.  For many in the banking and insurance industries, the daily routine of going to the branch or going to the office has been replaced by working from home.  Any trips to the office; for example, for essential payroll functions, are usually performed with only a handful of the workers at the office. Many banks and insurance companies have both written and unwritten dress codes, and with these employees now working from home, these standards are going out the window. The new normal for many of us is spending the day working in comfortable clothes. Aside from the occasional webcam meeting, there are not many occasions where what clothes we wear during the day are visible to our customers and colleagues. So what’s the motivation to dress for success in a self-isolation world? 

Putting on more formal clothing isn’t a silver bullet to make everything better from an engagement perspective. We are in unprecedented times, and with social distancing and self-isolation it is easy for engagement to start slipping, and it has nothing to do with your dedication to your organization. The grind of quarantining can wear on everyone, and it’s easy to slip into a rut. There are a lot of ways to stay engaged during  COVID-19, but if your engagement needs a quick boost to get going, consider dressing up a bit more, even if your only office-mate is the family pet!  


Looking for more tips on adjusting and thriving in your new work environment? Click here to view other helpful blog posts on remote work. 


Published: Thursday, May 14, 2020