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Traditional wear in the office – yes or no?

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Following a move by Sabah’s ministry to allow traditional wear at work, Priya Sunil speaks exclusively to 11 HR leaders to find out their take on what dress code works best.


This article was updated after publication.


Yesterday, Sabah’s Rural Development Ministry (KPLB) ‘welcomed’ recommendations by the state’s Chief Minister, on donning traditional wear to work, Bernama reported. Following this, civil servants in Sabah would be allowed to wear traditional outfits to work on certain days. In KPLB, this dress code will be observed every Thursday.

Speaking about this decision, KPLB’s Minister Datuk Ewon Benedick said: “This is a new policy introduced by the Sabah Government today which does not only strengthen our cultural heritage, but can also create a new industry to design or produce ethnic Sabah-style clothes suitable for office wear or attending official government events.”

In line with this new move, Human Resources reached out exclusively to HR leaders across Malaysia to seek their views on traditional wear in the office, and their current office policy on this topic.

Here’s what they had to share, for some food for thought.

Danny Yong, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, AmBank Group

Our organisation allows culture wear to respect different ethnic festive celebrations. Due to (the) flexible working culture onboard, we are allowing (employees to) dress down, including culture wear.


Chandralakshmi Thiruchelvam, Head of Performance & Rewards, APAC, CBRE

Yes I am definitely in support of allowing employees to don their traditional wear at the workplace. It adds to the diversity that should be respected and accounted for. Malaysia is diverse in many ways and allowing employees to proudly wear their traditional wear to the office only encourages this dynamism.


Nor Izzuddin Shah Mohamed Nor, Head of People & Culture, iMoney Group

I think first we should define traditional clothes. Bearing in mind that traditional clothes are allowed or even encouraged at formal events, I’m all for it; but there has to be an understanding of what traditional clothes are accepted. For example, baju melayu covers our full body, so it’s nothing different than wearing a suit, but traditional Sabahan orang asli clothes are revealing, so I guess it’s inappropriate.


Wan Ezrin Sazli Wan Zahari, SHRM-SCP, Chief People Officer, TIME dotCom

Clothes should be: comfortable; conducive to do the job; not offensive to the cultural norms of the community worked in; not a trigger to harassment (this point is complex e.g. sexual harassment occurring because of sexy clothing triggering the harassment); and aligned with the cultural mood of the company (e.g. in Zappos – wearing round neck t-shirts would be cooler than wearing smart casual).

Traditional clothes? Impractical. Also, too comfortable is not good. For example, if I decide to wear baju melayu and sarong at work with flip flops, I don’t think my state of mind would be the same as the smart casual I usually wear at work.

If I decide to wear baju melayu and sarong at work with flip flops, I don’t think my state of mind would be the same as the smart casual I usually wear at work.
– Wan Ezrin Sazli Wan Zahari, SHRM-SCP, Chief People Officer, TIME dotCom

Aidee Rodzman Rosidi, Learning Operations Manager APAC, TechnipFMC

For me, I don’t have any issue on wearing the traditional clothes at work as long as it is appropriate and suits with the work environment. Why? Nowadays organisations always talk about diversity practice, and this is one of a way to show it. (Our current workplace dresscode) is formal and smart casual.


Charlene Teo, Human Resources Manager, Conspec Builders (M)

Employees are advised to adhere to workplace dress codes. If the traditional wear passes the office dress code, then it is allowed. If sleeveless wear or short skirts above the knees are not allowed then the traditional wear should be catered to the dress code.

(Our office) dress code is smart casual. At minimum, men (are allowed) to wear polo tshirts and full-length jeans. Women are allowed to wear short skirts and sleeveless tops. No torn jeans are allowed.

When choosing a job, employees consider whether the dress code and uniform is suitable for them (eg. short skirts). So if the employer clearly states the dress code, then employees consider whether their traditional wear fits into the dress code and then work out a suitable variation that fits into the company’s requirements.


Dr Loo Leap Han, Group Head of HR, Kota Menara Ufuk

Malaysia consists of a multiracial community and we embrace the diversity and inclusion of multi-traditional cultures in the workplace. Traditional wear is part of the initiatives to promote unity and identity in the workplace.

(We have an) open and decent dress code. It is stated in the company’s dress code policy. Its scope covers: corporate formal attire; smart casual attire; traditional religious attire; company uniform attire; and dress-down Friday attire.

Bearing in mind that traditional clothes are allowed or even encouraged at formal events, I’m all for it; but there has to be an understanding of what traditional clothes are accepted.
– Nor Izzuddin Shah Mohamed Nor, Head of People & Culture, iMoney Group

Phing Phing Lim, Director – Global Mobility, PwC International Assignment Services

PwC Malaysia adopted flex-wear as part of our flexible initiatives introduced in the firm. With flex-wear, our people can now dress for their day, which gives them the flexibility to decide on an appropriate attire based on their schedule for the day.

Whether wearing traditional attire to work is acceptable or not depends on the company’s policy which should stipulate what is perceived as acceptable or not acceptable attire. It is important to provide people with guidelines of what constitute appropriate clothing which would meet the expectations of the company, colleagues and external audience depending on the circumstances.


Doris Lee, Head of Human Resources – Malaysia, iCar Asia Limited

Yes. I believe that fashion can be a form of self-expression. If employees feel comfortable, motivated and happy why not? In line with our company value, ‘inclusive’, we respect and put a bit of fun into everyday work life by allowing employees to dress in traditional wear.

Occasionally, we do have various themes in place for our monthly team meeting and as an employer, I’m happy to see the active participation and support given by the employees. “The most important thing is to enjoy your life—to be happy—it’s all that matters.” ― Audrey Hepburn

(The current dress code is) smart casual on Monday to Thursday and casual on Friday.


Shamshul Kamal Ab Samad, General Manager, Group People Management & Team Culture, Universiti Kuala Lumpur

In my opinion, the organisation has the right to determine the dress code for it’s workers depending on the image and branding that the organisation wants to maintain and uphold.


Florence Tan, HR Manager, Schaeffler

We (have) never come across or had issues with employees who wears traditional clothes to work. All employees have the freedom to wear what makes them happy, comfortable and confident, as long as it looks appropriate to a formal or corporate environment

We allow smart casual wear on every Friday, or (on the) eve of public holidays.


 

Photo / 123RF

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