I work in the ‘creative’ industry, and thus enjoy certain liberties that elude my peers from other walks of life, in terms of facial hair. Still, you can’t ignore the increasing number of beards that populate even corporate offices these days — men seem to be breaking the clean-shaven-for-work rule. With millennials comprising a majority of workforces at present, are employers really warming up to beards as opposed to, say, half-a-decade back, when going whiskerless was the order of the day?
Ashutosh Thatte, HR manager at the India arm of the leading public relations firm Edelman, believes that workspaces have definitely become more accepting of the idea. “It’s no longer considered a corporate evil to sport a beard. And this thought is not limited to just our company. I encounter so many men with full-grown beards from other offices in our campus and elevators every day.” This can largely be attributed to the rise of disposable incomes in urban India. Also the internet, social media, movies and travels abroad have opened up the world of male styling, in turn boosting the cause of the beard. Thus corporates can’t fully control this culture in an age when counterpart companies are stressing on the elevation of employee satisfaction, according to Thatte.
But is that the case in other sectors as well? Insurance broking and risk management firm Marsh India prefers its employees clean-shaven, according to assistant vice-president (HR) Nidhi Bharadwaj. “It’s not written in the company’s constitution, but newcomers are briefed by their managers to maintain a tidy demeanour, religious obligations being exceptions. We’re not exactly averse to bearded employees, but it’s just that the intermediate phase during the growing of a beard is not too pleasant to the eye, and it leaves a bad impression when our client-facing employees visit clients,” she added.
Evidently, some companies are pretty liberal about man manes, while some others prefer a clean shave. There’s a third category of workplaces that strictly command a clean shaved look. For instance, a Muslim beard enthusiast unsuccessfully filed a petition to sport a beard in the Indian Air Force recently. The Supreme Court ruled against beards on religious grounds (for everyone apart from Sikhs) in favour of the IAF’s ‘dress and deportment’ discipline.
Is stringency in beard rules still the case with some corporate companies as well? “Under the company policy, growing a beard is an absolute no,” said Larsen & Toubro (L&T)’s assistant manager (learning and development) Karan Dhar, introducing us to the other extreme. “I am associated with L&T Realty, which is a relatively new subsidiary of the organisation, so we’re more tolerant about things. We have some employees sporting not just stubbles, but proper beards. On the other hand, the more core arms of the company are pretty strict about being clean-shaved.”
Ask him the reason behind this attitude and he answers that L&T and its like are 70- plus year-old institutions, and adopt old-school approaches to various things. “Personally, I like to remain clean-shaved; I’ve got to set an example,” he said and added “but I do believe that this beard trend is a fad. It will soon disappear.”
Really? The rapid increase in the variety of beard grooming products and their sales in the country narrate a very different story. The market for beard styling products is expected to surge to Rs 18,594 crore by 2020, up 146 per cent from Rs 7,542 crore in 2015, according to estimates by consumer research firm Euromonitor.
And Edelman’s Thatte believes that the better way forward is to make the grooming guidelines more in tune with the day and age. “Millennials are taking over the workplace, and you can’t have a policy against beards per se. It’s about perceptions. The call is for being more open-minded and accepting towards beards, and that’s what should be done,” he summed up.