What Colour is Your Workforce?
Colour & colour psychology; the impact on the wearer and the customer
By Sue Stedman of Sue Stedman Corporate Clothing Limited
If you are currently on board a plane, look around you at the airline staff’s uniform. Cabin crews’ uniforms are perhaps the feature that most clearly distinguishes one airline from another – be it the sophisticated corporate style of British Airways, or the causal but cheerful orange identity of EasyJet. Alternatively, consider your company’s own corporate uniform, that of your competitors or suppliers. It is immediately apparent that colour of a corporate uniform is one of the clearest and most direct ways of directly communicating a company’s image.
A corporate uniform is central to your company’s brand and branding is all about communicating the essence of your company, your products and your services to your own personnel and to the wider world.
In designing corporate uniforms for a wide range of industries, Sue Stedman Limited makes colour the starting point from which all other designs flow. It is essential that the colours reflect the specific role and the nature of the company. Serious colours do not have to be boring and bright colours do not need to be brash: the over-riding intention should be to design uniform colour schemes that give the wearers a lift and make them feel good about themselves.
A company’s logo is usually the starting point in designing a uniform. Although neutral colours may be selected (a black or navy suit for example), we always intend to incorporate the logo colours in the design – perhaps in the weave of the fabric, or in a scarf or tie.
Without doubt, black and navy are the most popular colours, both with managers and their workforces.
But putting the staff into dreary, cold, dark colours does not necessarily mean that they come across as efficient and professional; it often suggests that the company has no soul – and soulless dressing invariably leads to soulless customer communications. Alternatively, a brighter, more cheerful colour in a uniform can bring about enthusiasm, and in doing so, considerably benefit customer services. This effect is seen no more clearly than in a recent fashion makeover by the Japanese prisons authority, where orange and green have been introduced to reduce violence. Announcing the new uniform, Shigemi Tanimoto of the Justice Ministry commented, “Colour experts told us the colours currently in use were too cold and aggressive. We hope to stabilise the mental states of inmates by giving them warmer and brighter colours.” Brighter colours are fun to work with and invariably very successful, but the market for bright colours is more limited, suiting only situations when staff are required to stand out.
There are only a few colours I would always recommend clients to stay clear of: grey, which can make staff feel depressed and lacking in energy; brown, which spells dowdy, and red which is a difficult colour to wear with certain hair colours and skin tones. Green too, is very rarely used – although for no other reason than that too many people are superstitious about the colour.
In fact colour harmony is in many ways more important than the choice of an individual colour. Whether you're designing a new kitchen, wrapping a present or creating a bar chart, the colours you choose greatly affect your final results. And yet surprisingly few people consider colour harmony when getting dressed despite the fact that colour disharmony can create vibrating, electric, almost painful effects.
Beliefs about the effect of colour on the wearer run deeper, however. It is widely believed that red, for example, stimulates the senses and raises the blood pressure, while blue has the opposite effect and calms the mind. I have heard that people will gamble more and make riskier bets when seated under a red light as opposed to a blue light – which is why Las Vegas is the city of red neon.
I know of a restaurant which received complaints from customers in a blue environment that the office was too cold. But when the walls were painted a warm peach, the sweaters came off even though the temperature had not changed.
Are staff concerned by colour associations – red is for danger, black is for death? My experience is that this is rarely the case. While dark colours can be seen as funereal, they also represent corporate efficiency. While orange traditionally represents fire and pink is seen as effeminate, these warm colours can help staff to stand out and present a cheerful, positive image. Cool colours, particularly those in pastel shades, are believed to have a calming effect, but they are impractical when worn on a daily basis and as such can be difficult to wear. Furthermore, colour associations vary across the globe – something that a global company should bear in mind: whereas black is associated with death in the West, white is the colour of mourning in China. Associations tend instead to be linked to people’s own experience – it is common for someone to dislike bottle green for example, if it was the colour of their school uniform.
My personal belief is that customers are more affected by the overall colour and corporate identity of a company than they are specifically by the uniforms of staff. The staff themselves, however, are greatly affected by what they wear, to the extent that their behaviour towards the customer is affected. Ultimately, if the staff are positive, the affect on the customer is positive. On the other hand, if the staff feel unhappy in what they are wearing, customer services will suffer. The key to success in uniforming a workforce is, without a doubt, having a uniform that people enjoy wearing. Customer service is all about the customer receiving the correct service only when the workforce feels smart, professional and positive will this be achieved.