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One risk of your “Everyday Jeans” policy

February 9, 2016

If you’ve been watching the industry news lately, a handful of firms have adopted an everyday-jeans policy. Essentially, in many cases these policies are worded to say as long as you don’t have a client meeting, you are free to wear jeans in the office every day of the week. It sounds reasonable – as the work product of your people isn’t going to change based upon what they are wearing. And, I certainly see how this is perceived as a perk for employees and an advantage in recruiting. Finally, as a self-described challenger of the status-quo, I think it’s about time that we worry less about what people are wearing and focus instead on the quality of their deliverables.

But, I must say I am a bit concerned about one particular message that comes through in this policy and that is the “if you don’t have a client meeting” aspect of the policy. 

What was that?  If you don’t have a client meeting? Why wouldn’t our people have a client meeting every day? 

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. I know you’ve carefully considered the advantages and disadvantages of your new policy from a variety of aspects. But have you thought about the impact this new policy may have on the strength of your client relationships, the ability of your people to identify value generating ideas for your clients, the ability to grow revenues through cross-selling, the strength of your referral source community, and the development of your people in their interpersonal skills?

Ultimately, I believe trusting our people to dress appropriately whatever the occasion is a move in the right direction. Everyday jeans is a part of that movement. However, take caution that a “jeans-everyday” policy doesn’t erode the strength of your client relationships and the message that client relationship development is a core component of everyone’s job in today’s CPA firm.

Art Kuesel is the president of Kuesel Consulting where he helps CPA firms perfect their growth strategies and actions to drive revenue in the door. He can be reached at

Comments (11)
Never considered that putting a suit and tie on was so much "work" lol...and if your clothes fit properly, comfort isn't an issue. I guess some people will complain about anything.

As sanders said, it's not about your comfort, it's about other people's perception.

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...
Posted by Vincent DiMarco | Thursday, February 11 2016 at 11:47PM ET
A few years ago I thought at a community college where the staff was allowed to dress "casual". Seeing the teachers wearing jeans, sometimes not so clean or presentable, but "casual" the student were dressing worse. I continued to dress professionally and by the middle of the year I noticed my student were dressing better.When the students were told to evaluate their teachers almost all my evaluations from my students referred to the fact that I came to work dressed professionally and made them want to dress better. Whether we like it or ;not appearance does matter! Why is it so difficult to dress professionally when we go to work? We used to dress with some decor when we traveled by plane...than the "casual" dressing was encouraged. Now when you fly you see some passengers, man and women alike who didn't even bother to wash their clothes when travelling..Has anyone ever set besides one of them? That's not a comfortable flight...When you let go of you dress appearance unfortunately the personal cleanliness takes a leave of absence also! Even now my clients comment on the fact that, during Tax Season, when they come to my office I am usually dressed for business not for leisure and they appreciate it. No one has to spend a fortune to dress appropriately( I don't) in the office when interacting with clients, with people in general or for the benefit of their colleagues. All we have to do is take some pride in what we ware and care about the impression we make when we show up!Two equally qualified people go for a job interview. One is dressed appropriately, the other one is dressed "casual"...Who do you think get the second interview? No, the person who is not chosen will never know why, but he or she should consider "the why" he or she was not called back! Once a Company relaxes the rules there is always a group of employees who take it too far...and I am sure all of you have had the occasion to observe the phenomena!
Posted by SNAFU | Thursday, February 11 2016 at 12:43PM ET
Thank you for your article. I believe the you have a valid point about presenting yourself professionally and being prepared for the unexpected. What is missing in this dialog is the non-client facing employee. CPA firms are more than Accountants and Managers and Partners. There are many that play a supporting role in the success of the firm and they never interact with a client. Now they have some options and opportunities to dress comfortably while working in their back office or cubicle, while also feeling pride that the firm trusts them to make the right decision on their choice of clothing for the day.
Posted by RDreese | Thursday, February 11 2016 at 12:20PM ET
You are NOT an industry, you are a PROFESSION. Treat it like one and you will realize the benefits.
Posted by | Thursday, February 11 2016 at 12:13PM ET
I agree with the article on the point, from shareholders on down to new staff should not view a everyday jeans policy as an invitation to come into the office and do nothing. However the fact is young and old accountants spend time in the office so wearing jeans when any of us knows we will be in the office is not inappropriate. I remember the whole outcry for business casual around 1999 during the tech boom and now virtually every firm is that way. So now every male has 5 pairs of khakis and 5 blue shirts. Now we look more like robots than in the days we wore suits. Also in some ways the jeans everyday policies benefit tax staff who may be doing more work from the office than the audit staff. I think everyone is overthinking this, if you have a day in the office there is nothing wrong with jeans. we are in an industry with a massive labor shortage and at least for now every little benefit can help.
Posted by JCrevere | Thursday, February 11 2016 at 11:39AM ET
Your appearance is more about the respect you have for the people with whom you interface, and not about your own comfort. When I was in practice, I dressed in business formal every week day because I never knew if a client or the IRS might show up, or if I would be sent out to a client. In fact, I heard through the grapevine that I was often sent out to a client because the partners could rely that I would be professionally attired. When I made manager, I was told to dress business casual on Saturdays--no more jeans. And again, one of the partners would often call on my to assist him at Saturday partner meetings. You only have seconds to make a good impression, and it is hard to recover from a bad impression.
Posted by sanders | Thursday, February 11 2016 at 11:07AM ET
Art, right on target again. Warren Buffet’s quote: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked.” applies here.

In truth, what we need is a more sensible approach to these “come as you feel” policies. Because once we open the flood gates, we will never be able to close them; or more accurately will need to spend millions of dollars teaching what parents forgot too.

Here is my policy:

You can come naked to our office as long as you have a suit and tie (dress etc.) in your cubicle or office just in case a client or partner needs you one day for an in or out of office meeting. We call this managing risk…it is what we do here at ABC & Company.

If someone is willing to spend years becoming a CPA and wants to be a professional, don’t we need to at least ensure we raise the bar high enough to assure they can muster some very basic etiquette as well? Unfortunately, we do.

Until and unless we stop lowering the bar…come work for us because it so much fun to work here…we are going to attract those who fail to understand the “work” here part. Then what?

Unfortunately, we have taken the word “profession” out of our vocabulary and replaced it with “industry”.

Consider this situation of someone in need of a professional.

A patient (client) is bleeding (cash) and needs an (cash) infusion to survive.

Do they really want to know their doctor (CPA) works in a hospital (firm) that has this slogan: “We work hard and we play hard”. Our professionals are encouraged to display their innermost feelings by the way they dress. At times you may see blue jeans or no jeans or no clothes at all. Rest assured our happy professionals will welcome you and, are motivated to make you well again.

Is today’s accounting firm leadership fiddling while Rome burns?
Posted by | Thursday, February 11 2016 at 11:07AM ET
I agree with previous comments, particularly Rita K's observation that a lot meetings and business development opportunities occur impromptu. Those employees who are not dressed appropriately will get passed-over for the last minute invitation to the Economic Club luncheon. It's important to be prepared for whatever might come along. In addition, it's not entirely clear to me what is actually behind the desire to wear jeans everyday - comfort and affordability, creating a more casual environment, being "challenger of the status-quo," just because?
Posted by Peter Fontaine | Wednesday, February 10 2016 at 5:04PM ET
The problem is the employees that will utilize the jeans everyday are usually below management level that do not leave the office very much. From my experience most partners limit client contact from the non management staff. They believe :

1. The high turnover at this position might turn off a client dealing with a new person every couple of years.

2. It is non billable to just bring someone along. And more than likely will not have a return on their investment because the staff leaves the firm.

While it will be great to see more mentoring and setup the next generations to continue where the previous left off, it does not happen as much as one would think.

I believe that a good professional should be prepared and probably keep a tie or sports jacket handy in case of a spontaneous meeting. The next generation of professionals really do not see someone who is dressed up as being more trustworthy or knowledgeable and mostly enjoy casual meetings at a coffee shop than an office.

Just my two cents. Thanks for the article.
Posted by jcossio | Wednesday, February 10 2016 at 9:16AM ET
And, what 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.
Posted by gmay | Wednesday, February 10 2016 at 8:34AM ET
Thanks for addressing this topic, Art. I completely agree with you, firms must be careful. I continually encourage partners to take young accountants along to client meetings, lunches with attorneys and to business and charitable networking events. If they are always in jeans, this won't happen as frequently, because many opportunities are last minute. I hope firms will consider a dress appropriate policy. - Rita Keller
Posted by Rita Keller | Tuesday, February 09 2016 at 4:40PM ET
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