2 minute read


Like a lot of people in the current working from home purgatory I’ve been wearing casual clothes a lot. Add to that I spent an unhealthy amount of time on Reddit’s /r/malefashionadvice community where discussions about dress codes pop up every so often.

According to studies, 61% of employees are more productive when the dress code is relaxed - Hive, 2020

recent research shows that 61% of employees are more productive when the office dress code is relaxed -CEO Review, 2019

recent research shows that 61% of employees are more productive when the office dress code is relaxed - CV Library, 2019

It’s common for people to say “a study” or “studies have shown”. And me being a dork with a background in research made me go digging with my Google-FU. The results were a bit surprising, but not too unsurprising really.

From my search I found the original “61%” study was from Stormline Gear in 2016. A New Zealand company which makes outdoor gear. The study polled around 1,000 adults.

Apart from that?

Not much details. Nothing about the people surveyed, what country they came from, gender split, or the study’s methods, research design, questions asked, etc. There’s nothing in the public domain I could find and I sent them an email if they’d be willing to share the original study report.

What was actually said was this:

Reflecting on their current places of work, 8 in 10 of those with a dress code say they don’t feel it is useful at all. Almost two thirds (61%) of those surveyed say they’d be more productive and happier if allowed to dress how the way wanted.

Notice the difference between “are more productive” versus “say they’d be more productive”? This is the important bit.

Actual productivity of changing a dress code has not been measured at all.

This is people self-reporting they feel more productive. There a leap from what the actual study found out to how it’s reported across the internet.

Apart from that there’s another limitation of self-report surveys: people tend to answer questions in a way which will make themselves look or feel better about themselves. A concept called social desirability bias. This means there’s a disconnect between what people self-report and what they actually do. This appears in studies ranging from: measuring social media usage (Scharkow, 2016 and Ernala et al., 2020), alcohol consumption (Northcote & Livingston 2011), sleep patterns and length (Leng et al, 2014), recycling and buying ethical goods (Budhathoki et al, 2019). So even the study itself needs to be taken cautiously, especially when no one can read the thing.

Now this isn’t to say that people’s opinions about their own perceived productivity isn’t interesting in its own right. If anything, that sounds like a cool study to expand on (what type of clothing do people thinks make them more productive or confident?).

But the “61% of employees are more productive in casual dress codes” is totally wrong. And it’s all down to misreporting.