Is Barclays boss John McFarlane right to ban flip-flops at work?

The bank's new knife-wielding boss has banned jeans and flip-flops from the bank's head office.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 28 Oct 2015

For decades, jeans, T-shirts and – dare we say it – trainers have been chasing the suit and tie from the British office. At Barclays, however, the traditionalists are finally making a stand. Executive chairman John ‘Mac the Knife’ McFarlane has summarily banned casual wear from the bank’s headquarters in Canary Wharf.

He did make a small concession for ‘dress-down Friday’, but this did not extend to flip-flops, against which McFarlane appears to have a personal vendetta. The ban is directed principally to the edgier members of the Barclaycard team, most of whom are not based in the company headquarters.

In a memo seen by the Telegraph, Barclaycard interim boss Amer Sajed said that ‘with key client representatives and high profile guests regularly visiting the building it's important that we present the right image of the business’, but that there are ‘no plans to change any other aspects of the working environment or culture’.

McFarlane, he added, was ‘enormously complimentary’ of that culture and Barclaycard’s ‘entrepreneurial spirit’. Just not their footwear, apparently.

Is he right? There’s a cultural fault line when it comes to dress. To some, the tie is a noose around your neck. Flip-flops represent the freedom to feel comfortable and express yourself at work. To others, they’re just unprofessional. Slovenly dress will lead to slovenly work.

For a bank, the latter argument is always likely to win the day, precisely because, as Sajed said, important clients visit the place. Image matters.

You wouldn’t want the person advising on your multibillion dollar merger to be wearing flip-flops and tie-dye shorts any more than you’d want your lifeguard to be dressed in black tie and spats. Sometimes conventional can be reassuring.

Maybe that’s being unfairly ‘lookist’, but the fact is that’s how people see it. Because of this, the choice to go against the grain makes a statement. Either you’re taking a stand against the idea that appearance affects your professionalism, or you just don’t care that your clients might think less of you because of it.

That’s not going to fly with many employers, and certainly not at banks.

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