The pandemic's screen-optimized work-from-home uniform — dress shirt on top, sweatpants and slippers on the bottom — evokes the 1980s hairstyle known for presenting an image of business in the front and party in the back. Thus its nickname, "Zoom mullet" attire.
Remote workers have found that pairing a professional-looking top with a casual bottom has several benefits, including increasing their comfort and reducing their need to do laundry. But researchers from Columbia's Business School wanted to know how wearing a Zoom mullet affected remote workers' psyches.
The recent Columbia study, Enclothed Harmony or Enclothed Dissonance?, noted the widespread popularity of the Zoom mullet. The authors cited another survey that found 75% of remote workers have donned the mixed outfits — with 10% reporting that they had worn only underwear on their lower half.
The Columbia researchers randomly assigned several hundred remote workers to wear "work," "home" or "mixed" (work on the top, home on the bottom) attire and then asked them to self-report feelings of their authenticity, power and engagement during the workday.
Responses showed that home attire increased workers' feelings of authenticity and engagement. Work attire did not consistently increase workers' feelings of power, as high-status clothing such as suits have found to produce with in-person work. As for the Zoom mullet? Those wearing it said they didn't feel any benefit.
When it comes to remote workwear, local human-resources consultant Karen Gureghian of HR Business Partners thinks the old "dress for success" mantra needs reconsidering. The impact attire has on one's work can vary based on an an individual's level of confidence in themselves and competence in their job, she noted.
"From an HR perspective, we're very concerned about recruiting, retention and mental health of our employees," she said. "If someone feels most comfortable and productive dressed a certain way, we support it."
The Columbia researchers noted that the Zoom mullet could create psychological issues by instilling a sense of cognitive dissonance.
That said, a pair of surreptitious fuzzy slippers can't be more distracting than other changes triggered by working from home, such as computing from a closet or having kids crash your video calls.