WILMINGTON, Mass. — In what appears to be a popular and ongoing trend, organizations as diverse as city maintenance departments and exotic island resorts have been adding employee uniforms to their company fringe benefit packages to boost morale and, in turn, their productivity levels, according to UniFirst, a supplier of uniforms and work apparel programs throughout the United States and Canada.
Employee uniforms have traditionally been viewed by many as a functional necessity – similar to any other tool needed to get a job done. But uniforms are now emerging as a true benefit for employers seeking more affordable ways to attract, retain and motivate employees.
Evidence that employers are turning to uniforms as a fringe benefit – or perhaps more accurately, a “mutual benefit” – was revealed in a study conducted by the Uniform Textile and Service Association (UTSA). It showed that upward of 33 million workers currently wear uniforms on the job and their ranks are growing by approximately 1.2 million each year.
“Generally speaking, uniforms often make positive contributions to worker attitudes because of the ‘team-like’ sense of belonging they create,” notes Robert Isaacson, director of marketing for UniFirst.
“On a more practical level, a managed uniform program – which is typically rental in nature – means organizations give their employees a form of ‘pay raise’ because the employer assumes the financial responsibility for supplying and maintaining the freshly cleaned clothing their employees wear to work each day.
“Employees save on up-front uniform investments, home laundering costs, and, of course, the ongoing needs to purchase replacement clothing as work apparel becomes damaged or worn out. Add in the fact that uniforms can enhance a worker’s professional stature and sense of self-worth, and you have a powerful combination of factors that can cause morale to head in only one direction ... upwards.”
A heightened sense of morale is obvious among the 170 public works employees who change into rented uniforms on their arrival to work each day in Wheeling, W.Va., says Assistant City Manager Rita Coyne.
Why? “They don’t have to take those dirty things home,” she says of their work clothing that routinely becomes heavily soiled with grease and grime.
The public works department in Wheeling is thousands of miles away from the Kahala Mandarin Oriental resort in Honolulu in terms of distance and business mission. Nonetheless, the island hotel shares a common belief that uniforms make valuable contributions to worker satisfaction and performance.
Wolfgang Krueger, the resort’s manager, says his employees truly enjoy wearing their uniforms because of their comfort and the highly skilled image they project to guests.
What’s more, Krueger notes, the resort takes responsibility for cleaning employee uniforms – an expense he considers to be an “investment” in the Kahala Mandarin’s ongoing success.
“The fact that organizations are instituting managed uniform programs as a fringe benefit reflects that they have a winning attitude that reaches far beyond the walls of their facilities,” says UniFirst’s Isaacson.
“That’s because organizations that provide rented workwear for their employees take greater control of their overall business image; they take advantage of the ‘walking advertisements’ personalized uniforms provide; and they leverage their uniform programs so their enterprises repeatedly position themselves as ‘front of mind’ business options among customers, prospects and the public at large.”