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Going Barefoot At Work Cuts Stress And Feels Great. Going Barefoot At Work Is Gross. Discuss

Wherein we unlace the case for freeing your feet at the office.

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg admitted to "padding around" his office without his shoes recently—to the outcry of the sartorial press.

And as summer makes the downward arch into its dog days, we have to ask ourselves if we have the flexibility to free our feetsies.

Bare foot-ery: an office effrontery?

According to an Adecco survey, more than 40 percent of people feel offended when colleagues take their shoes off at work. Fast Company's previously gone on record against flip-flops, with the argument that if we can see your toes, that's not good.

But barefoot goes a step further, doesn't it?

"I think it's incredibly poor etiquette," Esquire associate editor Teo van den Broeke tells the BCC of Clegg's free-footed behavior. Why? The barefoot manager is "too lax" and disrespectful. "There are so many elements that could be offensive, be that cultural or simply that your feet smell."


But going barefoot also has its backers. The Guardian talked to avant-posh West London architect Amanda Levete, who has sneakers, high heels, and loafers piled up in front of her door. Here the open sole is encouraged.

"Well, it keeps the carpet clean," Levete tells the Guardian. "Also (being barefoot is) a great leveler, and it's relaxing: You can put your feet on the sofas."

And if you're one for integrated ergonomics, going barefoot may be another way to ease your at-work stress, says Dieter Breithecker, head of Germany's Federal Institute for Posture and Mobilization.

"Putting the soles of your feet in contact with all the normal sensations helps to relieve internal tension and reduce stress," Breithecker says. "Shoes, on the other hand, prevent direct contact with the ground and so adversely affect the health of our feet, balance, and posture."

Can a compromise be reached?

If you're part of the 40% of people who find bare feet offensive—or you suspect that your desk mates may be—then the best move might be to lighten your five-toed load.

"Wear thinner soles and shoes that are more breathable," says van den Broeke, the Esquire editor. But avoid the flip-flops.

If you have a solution for fleeter feet, let us know in the comments.

Hat tip: Quartz

[Image: Flickr user Michael]

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  • Frostynuts

    I love the idea.I'm barefoot all the time during the summer and spring and waer shoes to work but at soon as im at my desk my heels come off and dont go back on unless i'm meeting with a client but even then some of them tell me they dont mind since it makes meetings informal. 

  • Mike Poynton

    I work on one of my balconies at home in Costa Rica and have to disagree with Fast Company's stance on flip-flops. Check out my new ones - $4 at the Luperon supermarket. I haven't had a pair of leather dress shoes on since I went to last year's Halloween party dressed as a geek. 

    That being said, I've worked in office environments in the US where people occasionally removed their foot attire. I've never minded it unless the person's OdorEaters needed replacement. That's "gross". And I never would have dreamed of greeting a client shoe-less in that environment. So it's a contextual thing. Use your good judgement, folks.But then, like my dear Grandma used to say, "There's nothing common about common sense."

  • Uhanepono

    Whatevah in the common spaces and ad hoc the rest as per preference. There is one thing about mixing...  Shoes and expecially heels and bare feet don't mix in crowded or fast paced spaces!! squashed and skewered feet happen! I like that the older partner in Mad Men has 'em take off shoes in his space. Sets a tone and establishes boundaries.

  • Jennifer

    I have the advantage of working out of my boss' home-office. I love going barefoot at work, it makes for a much more relaxed environment and I feel less restricted. It all depends on where you work, though. Going barefoot in a corporate office conference room may be frowned upon, but at your own desk, I say go for it!

  • Haute Inhabit

    I can't work unless I am slightly uncomfortable; in heels. There needs to be a balance of course. Barefoot may be just a bit too zen for the workplace.

    On the gross aspect... yeah, kinda is. 

  • Stefan

    A little formality is such a lovely part of being a professional. Why forego that? Being well dressed changes your bearing, and shows respect for your work and for your coworkers. If going barefoot (or wearing flip-flops) is something you enjoy, make it your reward for your free time. Don't force squeamish clients and coworkers to suffer through it.

  • jakelockley

    It's not hygienic. Get an education and wear shoes. Same goes for dogs in the workplace. You may like living like a primate, but don't inflict it upon others who may be more evolved.

  • commonsense

    Actually, going barefoot is very hygienic, both indoors and outside. Air and light prevents fungus and bacteria from thriving on bare feet, and numerous studies show that barefoot people have healthier feet than habitual shoe-wearers. Get your facts straight before insinuating that people who prefer to go barefoot are less evolved than those who choose to deform their feet with shoes. 

  • jakelockley

    I seem quite hostile? You seem insecure. That's your baggage. I'm just stating the facts, If the words I use offend or hurt you, get a dictionary and don't take them personal.

  • commonsense

    Actually, JaneLockley, you are stating a personal bias with no basis in reality, not facts. The fact is that going barefoot is healthier than wearing shoes in all but the most extreme environments. For those of us who prefer bare feet to footwear, it is a natural anti-depressant and helps our productivity. I predict more workplaces will be encouraging bare feet as people with anti-barefoot biases learn the facts and quit relying on their prejudices to justify their ignorance. 

    Have a nice day :-)

  • Guest

    I own several dictionaries, but thanks for your concern. I'm not offended at all by your words, but your opinion isn't rooted in facts, logic or common sense.

    I have a hard time believing that bare feet, which most people wash daily, are less hygienic than the soles of shoes, which most people rarely wash. But, if you are aware of studies that prove otherwise, I'd love to read them.

  • uberlaurisa

    I work in a techspace with many startups all in one place, and could not live without my 3" heels. Every day they make me feel like I can jump over any hurdles. But i don't mind those in tevas or anything else more casual- the freedom of vive la difference is really what drives creativity & confidence.

  • Christina Bauer

    I slip my shoes off while I'm at my desk sometimes. But put them back on before walking anywhere at all. Personal comfort, but courteous to my office mates all at the same time.

  • the Beast

    Even better, toe socks!  Even with shoes on, they feel better than regular socks.  Take off you shoes, and you have the freedom of bare feet with the discretion of socks.  (Of course, you do look like a monkey.)

  • Cnfsed_01

    I work at a bank in Thailand and the general approach is that people come into work in extremely nice shoes and almost immediately change into slipper (even bunny slippers!) for walking around the floor that they are on. Once they need to go to a different floor (or go outside), the bunny slippers come off and the street shoes go back on.

    It isn't a problem with anyone, as far as I can tell...

  • The Mouse

    How I love this concept! As much as I was grossed out by the idea of co-workers walking around barefoot or in socks, it didn't occur to me until you related your own experience that we could implement slippers at work! Why not, right? We do that once we get home; most of us take our shoes off and put on flip flops or slippers. Makes perfect sense to have everyone buy their own pair of close-toe bunny slippers to keep by ones desk. Gosh, what a fun environment that would be and it would alleviate so much tension, open up dialogue and create such a fun environment; free from uptightness and pretensions. Plus, the cleaning staff at night would have less dragged in dirt to worry about. 

    And if visitors come in, the front desk can hand them a free pair of bunnies to put on too (with the company logo?). The gesture would convey "welcome" and "feel right at home".  Ok, if I ever open my own design agency (I am a budding product designer), I am implementing this in my studio!  You've made my day, CNFSED_01 !!!

  • Guest

    This story is basically a re-written version of a recent Quartz article, without attribution. Not good journalism, Fast Company.

    But, regarding the question posed, as long as your employees aren't working directly with customers, I don't see why they shouldn't be allowed to work barefoot if they choose. The "dress for success" mantra is based on archaic thinking. I always found that employees are happiest and most productive when they are allowed to wear clothing that they find appealing and comfortable.

    If you look at which companies allow their employees to dress down, including going barefoot, it's usually tech companies and startups, e.g. companies that embrace creative thinking. Those companies who feel the need to put dress codes in place are usually companies where order is paramount and new ideas are not embraced.