Some em­ploy­ees still must dress up

The Buffalo News - - CON­TIN­UED FROM THE COVER -

firm Gold­man Sachs re­cently adopted a “firm-wide flex­i­ble dress code.”

M&T em­ploy­ees had pushed for the change, and the bank’s lead­er­ship took the sugges­tions to heart, said Daniel Boscarino, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of hu­man re­sources.

Boscarino sees sound rea­sons for the change, es­pe­cially in to­day’s com­pet­i­tive hir­ing mar­ket.

“To be able to re­cruit and re­tain the best tal­ent, we want to make sure we’re open to all our em­ploy­ees’ re­quests, needs,” he said. “I also think, too, when you have peo­ple feel­ing good about them­selves and feel­ing re­laxed, pro­duc­tiv­ity im­proves in the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Peo­ple are hap­pier.”

“As I tell peo­ple, when you come to the bank, I don’t want youto­thinkofi­tasajob;I want you to think of it as a ca­reer and a place you want to be,” Boscarino said.

M&T al­ready had spe­cial oc­ca­sions where em­ploy­ees could dress down, such as fundrais­ers for the United Way. And cer­tain back-of­fice seg­ments of the business, like op­er­a­tions cen­ters, per­mit­ted casual at­tire. The new pol­icy cre­ates a more uni­form ap­proach, so to speak, across the bank.

There are ex­cep­tions. Em­ploy­ees who deal with cus­tomers all the time, as in branches, are still ex­pected to dress more for­mally. And shorts are still a no-no, no mat­ter where in the bank some­one works, Boscarino said.

Top of­fi­cials at M&T, in­clud­ing Chair­man and CEO René Jones, Pres­i­dent Richard Gold and Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer Dar­ren King, have been seen wear­ing jeans at the head­quar­ters, Boscarino said.

“I can tell you, at the top was the easy part of get­ting this pol­icy through,” he said.

When the top ex­ec­u­tives par­tic­i­pate, other em­ploy­ees re­al­ize it’s for real, he said.

Em­ploy­ers who have changed their dress code are of­ten do­ing so with an eye on the fu­ture, said Jim Le­moine, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of or­ga­ni­za­tion and hu­man re­sources in the Univer­sity at Buf­falo’s School of Man­age­ment.

“It’s a com­mon di­rec­tion,” Le­moine said. “More and more companies are mov­ing to less-for­mal dress, whether it be to be­come more at­trac­tive for po­ten­tial new em­ploy­ees or mil­len­ni­als, or whether it be to try to re­duce the power dis­tance or change the cul­ture, or whether it might even to be drive cre­ativ­ity or em­u­late one of the big tech companies that’s in the news so of­ten.”

Do em­ploy­ers face risks by re­lax­ing their dress codes?

“There’s some ev­i­dence that a dress code can set the cul­ture, and it can help to es­tab­lish the mindset of how se­ri­ous you take some­thing,” he said. “There have been is­sues where companies with ex­traor­di­nar­ily lax dress codes have had em­ployee ef­fort drop, and em­ployee mo­ti­va­tion drop.”

“If it’s the kind of place where you can walk around in shorts and a T-shirt, maybe they don’t take it as se­ri­ously as some­one who spends some time dress­ing in a shirt and tie ev­ery day,” Le­moine said.

A more-for­mal dress code, he said, tends to re­in­force qual­i­ties like hi­er­ar­chy, for­mal­ity and the “power dis­tance” be­tween em­ploy­ees and man­agers. “Or­ga­ni­za­tions with more-for­mal dress codes tend to be the ones that put their man­agers kind of at a higher level. Peo­ple look up to them. Peo­ple are per­haps more com­pli­ant. Peo­ple don’t think about sec­ond-guess­ing them, which can be great for get­ting things done.”

Em­ploy­ees in work­places with less-for­mal dress codes, Le­moine said, “tend to ques­tion their bosses more.” “They have a lower power dis­tance. They see their su­per­vi­sors maybe more as first among equals than as some­one at a com­pletely other level. So it might be a lit­tle bit bet­ter for cre­ativ­ity.”

Companies need to de­cide what kind of at­mos­phere they want to cultivate, Le­moine said. “Chang­ing the dress code can have a de­cep­tively ma­jor ef­fect on the cul­ture of a com­pany and the way its em­ploy­ees think.”

Some high-ranking M&T peo­ple showed up in casual at­tire for a re­cent event at a Buf­falo school. Michele Trolli, the chief tech­nol­ogy and op­er­a­tions of­fi­cer, and Michael Wisler, chief in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer, both praised the bank’s new pol­icy.

The change “mod­ern­izes” the bank’s dress code, Trolli said. “And it will help us to at­tract folks who don’t think that the three-piece or the two-piece banker suits are the way of the fu­ture. It’s very sen­si­ble, too.”

“You think about the companies that are at­tract­ing some of the most cre­ative-class tal­ent,” Wisler said. “It’s not just a tech thing, I think it’s an in­no­va­tion thing. Many of the places you look to are a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment than I think you think about work­ing 10, 15 years ago. We want to cre­ate a place that is as com­fort­able and as en­gag­ing and as at­trac­tive to the great­est kinds of tal­ent that we can.”

Boscarino said “dress for your day” is among a few em­ployee pol­icy changes M&T has made over the past 18 months. The bank ex­panded its be­reave­ment pol­icy to in­clude fam­ily mem­bers be­yond a par­ent-child re­la­tion­ship, and it of­fers 40 paid hours a year to vol­un­teer with a char­i­ta­ble cause of their choice.

Boscarino said M&T’s move away from a re­stric­tive dress code has gone smoothly. And he notes there’s noth­ing stop­ping em­ploy­ees from dress­ing more for­mally for work all the time if that is their com­fort zone. “We didn’t take away and say, ‘You have to dress down.’ We said, ‘You can dress down.’ That’s the im­por­tant part of it.”

Boscarino him­self is pre­pared for un­ex­pected meet­ings that pop up. He keeps a cou­ple of sports jack­ets and ties hang­ing in his of­fice.

He has re­ceived one un­ex­pected re­sponse to the re­laxed dress code: “Peo­ple are com­ing to me and say­ing, ‘Oh, my gosh, I have to go out and buy a new wardrobe.’ ”

John Hickey/Buf­falo News

M&T Bank’s chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer, Mike Wisler, wears casual at­tire as he meets with sixth- and sev­enth-graders at West­min­ster Com­mu­nity Char­ter School last month.

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