[Here's a post I wrote and never published a while ago. My job has since changed, but you can't escape the voodoo]
I'll get this out of the way immediately. I do not like formal "business dress". Shirts, ties and proper trousers shit me to tears. I feel uncomfortable and as a result I am less effective. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one. I also don't trust "suits" as far as I can throw them.
I work in IT. I do complicated magic with computer software, for which I'm paid quite a lot of money. I've been doing this for over ten years and in all that time I've probably only spent two or three months at proper "shirt and tie" businesses. I just don't feel comfortable and if a new opportunity has come up elsewhere, I've taken it. The job I'm in right now looks like it might become the longest-lasting "dress-code" post I've ever held. I quit a slightly more formal job which hypothetically paid more money in order to take this one.
Most of my days are spent in a cubicle or a server room, grinding away at documentation or software configuration or arcane architecture considerations. When I'm not doing that, I might be developing code, doing housekeeping like timesheets or corporate training, or maybe researching what's new in the field. Sometimes, I'm just slacking off waiting for some kind of response from somewhere else. Maybe one or two days a month I have some kind of meeting that might require formality. Occasionally, that may become more frequent, but I still don't meet with anyone outside the business for days at a time. I have many compatriots in the industry who are in the same boat. I am surrounded, every day, by people who do complicated magic with software completely out of sight, and what the fuck? They're all wearing shirts and ties and business slacks.
Because there's a blanket policy that says "this is what you'll wear".
But I am, most of the time, invisible. No-one outside of my business unit sees me for days on end, weeks even. Most of my interaction is done by phone, or email, or chat.
Why, then, do I need to labour under the "smart corporate dress" policy if I'm, for most of my career, a voice at the end of a phone line, or a smartly-typed string of characters? Why, indeed, does this policy exist in the first place?
My conclusion is this: It's a corporate superstition.
Let's look at the rational reasons why one may want to present a so-called "professional face"
• Meeting with a client, or may be called unexpectedly to a client meeting.
• Doing some kind of public event.
Sitting at a desk punching code or designing technical documentation? No suit required.
Even the above examples fall down to some extent. I'm a techie. A software engineer. Who's going to really care at a public event if I'm wearing a t-shirt with a SharePoint logo on it? I'm the guy who rolls up his sleeves (when I'm wearing sleeves) and builds shit, or fixes it when it's broken. Most of the people around me are remote workers. They don't even meet the customers they're labouring away for.
I think it's done because "that's how business is done". That's the way business has always done it. In other words, tradition. And what do we call a tradition with no rational purpose or foundation? Superstition.
It's corporate voodoo. An unfounded belief that a workforce in ties is somehow a more effective workforce.
I can't speak for anyone other than myself, but I am less effective when I'm uncomfortable, and business clothes, frankly, make me uncomfortable.
The concession I'm willing to make? Smart black denim jeans, and an open-collar black shirt. No tie. Think yourselves lucky you're getting that. This is not a fashion parade. If it's a very important client, I'll wear a jacket, but it's a no-lapel pinstripe, and I won't be keeping it on beyond the handshakes. OK?
So far it seems to be getting me by. I suspect the entire business unit also thinks shirt and tie is a dumb idea. I live in hope for a day when the decision makers realise that their clever, expensive, effective IT guys can be trusted to choose their own outfits*, but I don't hold out a lot of hope. Superstitions have a way of hanging around.
*exceptions must be made for some people I know in the industry. There ARE people who can't be trusted...
posted @ Wednesday, April 21, 2010 2:30 PM