Getting a kick out of a seldom-mentioned workplace change

Business and HR leaders share their thoughts on changes in work attire

Getting a kick out of a seldom-mentioned workplace change

You’ll need to cast your eyes towards the floor to discover one of the most prevalent workplace changes that has happened as a result of COVID. Slowly and quietly, but very surely, the humble sneaker has entrenched itself in workplaces – finally, in a LinkedIn poll conducted by Frog Recruitment, sneakers have earned themselves the title of “acceptable office attire” after a resounding 84.4% of 596 voters answered “yeah” to the question is it okay to wear sneakers to work?

“As a worker who has been around a wee bit of time,” said Skills Consulting Group’s, Jenny Burke – a staunch advocate of the sneaker, “back in the early days a man turning up to the office without a tie would have been frowned upon and woman weren’t really dressed appropriately without a pair of court shoes and a jacket. But times have changed in so many ways. If Helen Clark can turn up in trousers to a formal occasion with the Queen, then why do we have to be confined to the old ways of workwear?”

“Working from home during COVID-19 lockdowns has transformed where and how we are working. Sartorially, Kiwi workers are prioritising their comfort,” said Shannon Barlow, Managing Director at Frog Recruitment.

Read more: How to legally handle dress code issues

HRD talked to several business and HR leaders to get their take on sneakers, and the answer was a unanimous yes. Surprisingly, even HR Manager at NZ Steel, Simon Harvey had an opinion, not surprisingly, he said NZ Steel had a “safety first, style second stance” – indeed a prudent idea at a steel manufacturing plant, but went on to say, “I would totally support a functional approach in suitable organisations.”

So, it seems if you’re one of the 15.6% of people who answered ‘nah’ to Frog Recruitment’s LinkedIn sneaker poll, you’re a part of a very small minority.

Not a one-size-shoe-fits-all scenario

Other common themes that came back from leaders were that sneakers had to be clean and not your sweaty old gym shoes and the term “dress for your day” was bandied about a bit – wear sneakers if you have no appointments that require more formal attire. Sue Parker, director at DARE Group said, “It’s not a one-size-shoe-fits-all scenario. Firstly, it’s about how straight-laced the work culture is, it’s about the vibe in your office and work environment. Injuries of feet and TV waist up ZOOM needs aside, everyone should take a consideration focus.”

Workplace health & safety

Workplace HR consultant, Maureen Kyne was quick to warn against ‘injuries of feet’, “There’s a whole work, health and safety issue that needs to be considered,” she said. “For example, women with bunions should be allowed to work comfortably wearing sneakers. If they are required to wear heels and a worker get bunions, then potentially a company may have a claim on their hands.”

Read more: Should HR ban workplace dress codes?

Wellbeing and inclusiveness

Another common theme amongst leaders was wellbeing – bringing your authentic self to work includes your footwear and that potentially includes sneakers. Philly Powell, founder of Wellbeing Tick told HRD, “It almost seems hypocritical or unfair to say, bring your true self to work and we’ll provide you with an environment that supports your wellbeing…but sorry you can’t wear comfortable footwear”.

A sentiment that Stephanie Love, director of Stephanie Love HR Consulting agreed with, “People feel more comfortable being their authentic self and bringing their whole self to work when they can express themselves through what they wear. Comfort is paramount, so I am a strong advocate for wearing sneakers in the workplace, especially if you spend a lot of time on your feet, move around the office regularly or walk for part of the daily commute.”

Should shoes be policy?

Workplace HR consultant, Maureen Kyne believes there needs to be a footwear component added to office dress code policies, but Richard Kennedy, Country Director NZ at Randstad believes that old dress codes are being thrown away and replaced with wellbeing policies that extend to what people wear. Employers want workers to be themselves at work, and comfortable in every respect,” Kennedy told HRD.

Sneakers could be a unique part of your EVP

Kennedy also believes that sneakers could be a unique employment value proposition offering. An offering that could be extended to relaxing the rules around attire entirely or potentially offering staff allowances to purchase sneakers. Something that digital marketing company Localsearch knows a bit about, director of digital growth, Adam Boote, was looking for a meaningful way to connect his workforce through a common ground and also represent how his workforce could walk the walk together, so he gave every single employee a pair of white Air Force 1s.

“Every Friday, we encourage our employees to wear their Air Force 1s, which not only lets employees wear sneakers in the office, but is a statement that as a business, we are committed to unifying everyone and ensuring everyone is a part of the community,” Boote told HRD.

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