How you dress at works matters says Charlie Mullins

Columnists | Financial Services | Property & Construction
Charlie Mullins
Charlie Mullins

There’s no doubt that the dress code standards have slipped as more people have been working from their bedrooms, spare rooms, and dining room tables during the pandemic.

Plenty admit to matching a smart shirt and suit jacket with some scruffy joggers and a pair of comfy slippers that remain firmly out of view during any client Zoom call.

However, dressing smartly and appropriately for work is important, and I’m not just talking about city types.

It says so much about the business itself and reflects confidence, attention to detail and above all professionalism, whether that be a city broker or plumber rushing to an emergency call-out.

News that Lloyds of London may be considering ditching its own strict dress code for the first time in its 335-year history, because it’s all rather “stuffy”, is a backward step.

I know in such places as Silicon Valley in casual California that it’s very much in vogue to pull on your trainers, t-shirt, and jeans to rock up to work.

But we are talking Lloyds of London, the world’s leading market for specialist insurance, that operates from one of the City’s most iconic Grade One-listed buildings.

Currently, men are expected to wear a suit or jacket and trousers with a tie, although wearing a tie is no longer strictly enforced, and women must dress in “smart business” style, although they are not required to wear heels.

I suspect this is an idea that has emerged because of the switch to remote working, with many brokers and underwriters indicating that they wish to continue working from home.

Lloyds is also an institution keen to refresh its stuck-in-the past identity by adopting a less formal approach. After all, it’s a relatively simple way of cultivating a more innovative and modern image, but it’s not the right way to go.

Trade body the London & International Insurance Brokers Association (LIIBA) is calling for a shake-up, that includes letting people work from home and introducing a more relaxed dress code.

First impressions do count and that’s a valuable lesson I learned early on – which has helped me build Pimlico Plumbers into the successful business it is today.

When I set up in the 1970s the plumbing trade didn’t have the best of reputations, thanks to a bunch of scruffy cowboys, usually sporting that classic ‘builders bum’ look.

To set my business apart and to inspire a culture of professionalism, teamwork, and trustworthiness, I insist my people all wear a smart Pimlico uniform, from office staff through to front-line tradespeople.

In addition, my fleet of Pimlico vans seen daily on London’s streets is regularly maintained, cleaned, and polished – as both your people and vehicles must be well-turned out to create a first-class impression.

Smart business attire, as currently insisted on by Lloyds, is its own form of uniform and while standards may have slipped over lockdown – as more deals have been conducted online – this is an institution founded on face-to-face trading.

In a post-pandemic world, I’m convinced there will be a clamour to return to the office as the long-term downsides of home working become apparent

I hope Lloyds of London maintains its dress code, as it’s no real burden to put on smart business attire, and it really isn’t a sign of being out of touch.

Relaxing dress codes is the start of a long and slippery slope. All I know is that if I had to deal with someone in a pair of joggers, it would be me that would run a mile!

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