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Making a fashion statement at MassMutual.
Making a fashion statement at MassMutual.MassMutual/MassMutual

Insurance companies, with their legions of workers in dark suits, don’t usually make a fashion statement.

But the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. is trying to change that. The Springfield financial services company is encouraging its workers to express their sartorial style and build their own brand, even if that means — gasp — putting on a pair of jeans.

MassMutual relaxed its dress code last year and dropped the “business casual” policy — essentially khakis and collared shirts — and the list of what is and is not acceptable to wear. In its place, the company adopted simpler instructions: Just dress appropriately.

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That may mean cargo pants and a sweater for some employees and power suits for others, depending on their fashion sense, the meetings they may have that day, and what they feel most comfortable in, said Mike McNamara, a spokesman.

MassMutual is trying to ditch its image as a stodgy place to work and appeal to millennials. So when it was time for the annual review of its dress policy, the company took its fashion cues from Silicon Valley instead of from Wall Street, McNamara said

“We work differently than we did even a few years ago,” he said. “The focus of the policy is centered on using good judgment, placing trust and accountability on MassMutual’s employees.”

Dress-down policies aren’t for all companies, however, and getting too relaxed can cause wrinkles for executives, said Edward Yost, human resources manager for the Society for Human Resource Management, a Virginia-based trade group.

“That would scare me to death,” Yost said of MassMutual’s “dress appropriately” instructions. “It’s like defining art. It’s in the eye of the beholder. It speaks volumes about the trust they have in their employees.”

More companies are offering workers more freedom about what they can wear, Yost said, but most of them rely on a list of dos and don’ts, explicitly nixing spaghetti-strap tank tops, gym shorts, and other clothing that goes well beyond casual, he said.

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At MassMutual, McNamara said, employees are encouraged to talk with their managers if they have any doubts about their attire. But aside from isolated incidents when a worker wore something inappropriate, there haven’t been any reported problems.

So would flip-flops or frayed jeans fly at MassMutual?

McNamara wouldn’t say no, exactly. But, he added, employees are warned “If in doubt, don’t wear it.”


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