The ‘Everyday Jeans’ Policy Backlash Has Begun

By | 1 year ago

As the culture wars in the accounting profession continue, it was inevitable that concerns would arise around the "Don Your Denim" policies. On Accounting Today earlier this week, one worry that was brought up is that the casual dress policy is allowed "as long as you don’t have a client meeting" and that would discourage people from having client meetings:

Shouldn’t we be encouraging our people to have MORE client meetings, not less? Don’t we emphasize the value of face-to-face meetings as an opportunity to get to know our clients better, understand their goals, add value to the relationship, seek referrals, cross-sell, and achieve trusted advisor status? Don’t we state that perhaps the biggest differentiator between us and our competitors is the strength of our client relationships?

Shouldn’t we aspire to get out of the office daily and meet with someone, whether this be a client, referral source, influencer, thought leader, trade group meeting, or other person who can strengthen our personal and professional network?

Don’t we want to send the message to our staff that getting out of the office is an expectation, and is part of the growth of your career, essential to your ability to create a personal network and brand, and ultimately a key component of building a practice?

To all of these questions, most reply “yes.” So, I think we have to be careful about the possibility that we’ve inadvertently created an excuse for our people to not leave the office.  

So by this rationale, no accountant should be CAUGHT DEAD wearing jeans in the middle of weekday. I guess?

Now, I might be wrong, but I don't see where a person's clothes come into play here. I suppose if you work with, say, a lot of financial services clients, they might expect you to show up to lunch in professional dress, but there are plenty of clients who will laugh at you if you show up in a suit. Or just assume that you're stuffy accountant who's less enjoyable than a root canal.

The comments on this article agree, shall we say, strenuously with the concerns. I won't dwell on it, but here are a few:

[W]hat happens when a client or a prospective client comes to the office for a meeting or a tour? Is a dress code for the benefit of the individual or of the firm? If it is for the benefit of the firm — as I think it should be — then it seems to me that there shouldn't be different codes that depend on whether a client is present. Contrary to what some may believe, image can and should be important — both to the firm and to the individual.

And:

I believe that a good professional should be prepared and probably keep a tie or sports jacket handy in case of a spontaneous meeting.

Especially the gals, right?! Also, presentation is everything:

If you went to an upscale steakhouse and your meal was served on a paper plate with plastic silverware and disposable napkins, would you accept the "excuse" that the food would be the same had it been presented properly? I don't think so…

I think the mistake that lots of people make is to assume that all clients have the same expectations. For some clients, professional dress is NEVER okay (e.g. Peter Thiel types) so you should NEVER wear it to a client meeting. On the other hand, you better be suited up if you're meeting with Ed Asner.

Mary Barra got it sorta right when she changed GM's dress code to "dress appropriately." At GM, I'm sure there's all sorts of different situations that require all sorts of different clothes. Once employees get the hang of things, they know what's appropriate and what's not. Of course if you don't trust your workforce and want them to treat them like children, then "dress appropriately" will never work.

Part of the accounting profession's problem, I think, is that things are too binary. The rule is this or that, the estimate is right or wrong, you dress professional for EVERY client meeting.

That's just ridiculous. Crowe Horwath and Baker Tilly are going to let people wear jeans but also set some expectations as to when not to wear jeans. If those firms hire the worst and densest rather than the best and brightest, maybe they'll run into problems. Otherwise, I think their people will dress appropriately for client meetings, whether that involves wearing a pair of Wranglers or not.

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