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Dressing down raises money and morale

Image wasn't everything at one Tampa law firm Friday.

Consider Karyn Powell, assistant office manager for Honigman, Miller, Schwartz & Cohn. She reported to work in jeans, flat shoes and a cotton blouse ablaze with colors from the jungle.

"It made coming in Friday a lot easier," Mrs. Powell said.

And she wasn't fired.

Mrs. Powell and 17 of her colleagues all dressed down as part of Casual Day, a program to raise money for United Cerebral Palsy Associations Inc.

The event actually takes place next Friday, when more than 50 companies in the area will let their employees dress like slobs.

While participating companies pay nothing, their employees must pay a $5 minimum for the chance to leave their silk ties or high heels at home in favor of T-shirts and sneakers.

Mrs. Powell, the law firm's assistant office manager, said she and her associates got a jump on the event because prior commitments require them to look professional next week.

"It felt great," she said. "It seems like a lot more relaxed atmosphere. People are more laid back, less tense."

More than 6,600 companies and 180,000 employees nationwide took part in the first Casual Day last year, raising more than $1-million for United Cerebral Palsy Associations.

Twenty-nine businesses and 1,300 employees raised about $11,000 in the Tampa Bay area last year, said Kristy Restall, director of development for the charity's Tampa Bay operation.

Steve Lind, director of operations at Holland & Knight, another Tampa law firm, said he'll give the suit a rest next Friday and wear jeans, sneakers and a sport shirt. "Obviously, I'm a lot more comfortable in the casual attire," he said.

Surveys have shown that casual dress improves morale among workers _ several companies in the area have casual days on a regular basis _ and Mrs. Powell says she has to agree.

"We like when this comes around, so we can kind of kick back," she said.

Companies interested in taking part should call United Cerebral Palsy's local organization at 239-1179.