Uniformity: The effects of organizational attire on judgments and attributions

Robert Smith, Jesse Chandler, N. Schwarz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

Despite their prevalence in the marketplace, little empirical attention has been paid to how employee uniforms affect consumer reactions to service experiences. We propose that employee uniforms facilitate the shared categorization of employees and their organization in the mind of the customer, which affects many of the inferences that customers draw following service encounters. Study 1 shows that uniforms lead to greater attribution of responsibility to the company for employee behavior, especially following poor service. Studies 2 and 3 show that uniforms also lead to more assimilation of judgments across employees, increasing the impact of one employee's behavior on judgments of other employees of the same organization. Study 3 shows that employee uniforms lead to more extreme judgments of the company following service encounters. It also shows that bad (good) service from a uniformed employee makes competing companies look better (worse), indicating that uniforms can elicit contrast effects across companies. In sum, the mere presence of a uniform on an unsatisfactory service or retail employee can damage judgments of the organization and its employees and improve judgments of rival organizations compared to identical service from a nonuniformed employee. Managers seem unaware of these negative consequences. These same principles are likely to apply to a wide variety of uniformed services, including police, military, firefighters, and health‐care providers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-312
JournalJournal of Applied Social Psychology
Volume50
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2020

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