B2B International
B2B International

March 13, 2009

In today’s Thursday Night Insight, Paul Hague puts forward his argument that the recession could be responsible for bringing about a return to ‘traditional values’

Have you noticed an increasing sloppiness in our business attire over the last decade?  I am thinking here of the way we dress, the way we speak and the way we communicate.  Of course, our forefathers would say that there is nothing new in this.  Every generation claims that standards are slipping compared with the previous ones.

I’m not sure I fully subscribe to this.  Just because somebody wears a Trilby hat rather than an ostrich plumed cavalier hat, doesn’t mean that we are moving backwards.  I am thinking about the way we dress for work.  The initial concession of “dress down Friday” gave way to the abandonment of the tie on every day of the week.  “Smart casual” became “straight out of the garden casual”.

A similar and parallel trend has taken place in our writing.  We dash off e-mails without taking care of either the grammar or spelling.  Blackberries encourage a curtness of communication verging on sheer rudeness.  Text messages have created an interesting but new language which, for some of us, takes longer to decipher and create than the good old English we grew up with.

However, the worm looks as if it might be turning and I think that it is the recession we have to thank.  Have you noticed that the tie and suit is making a return?  Do you get more e-mails which begin “Dear” rather than “Hi”?  Are the comma, colon and semi-colon getting a new lease of life?  And, if this is so, why should it be?

The only explanation I have is that the boom times of the last 10 years created a cockiness which justified the more relaxed way of working.  Claims that informal business practices were breaking down barriers, increasing creativity, and improving efficiency were hard to deny as the profits rolled in.

In the yin and yang of life – that delicate balance between good and bad, sloppiness and perfection – we can all be guilty of sliding down the route of least resistance.  Dress codes, forms of address, written notes have all suffered.  And now as the economy tightens, we suddenly feel we can’t leave anything to chance.  When visiting a potential client, some small gremlin at the back of my mind advises me to wear a crisp white shirt, pick out a red tie and don my navy blue suit because I have known for years that it engenders confidence in both the wearer and the observer.  My notes to clients have increased in their frequency and I try to improve on my accuracy.

Perhaps we will see this trend gather momentum so that it isn’t just the things I have been talking about that will change.  I predict there will be less automated phone answering systems and more real people to talk to.  Perhaps there will be genuine improvements made to services as people fight for every inch of business by trying harder.  I am not enjoying this recession at all but I can see it is whipping me into shape.  It must be doing the same to others.  Darwin would have had great fun if he was alive today watching his principles work out in business.