Canadian Underwriter

What will happen with dress codes in the post-pandemic era?

October 1, 2021   by Brooke Smith

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Walter Neff from the 1944 film Double Indemnity is the quintessential insurance agent. Office-bound and clad in suit, tie and hat, Neff is symbolic of a bygone era.

Times have changed, and so have dress codes. “More companies have started moving toward a business casual model versus office attire, where men were required to wear business suits,” said Amber Clayton, director of the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Knowledge Center. “That’s happened over the years where it’s become a little more relaxed with dress codes — even more so during the pandemic.”

In fact, according to a 2020 SHRM poll of 336 U.S. employees who were working remotely, 60% said they wear casual or athletic wear (e.g., sweat pants) during their workday; only 6% said they don business attire.

But will yoga or sweat pants make an appearance in the office post-pandemic? Not likely. The dress code policy at Aviva is simple: “Wear what you think makes sense,” said Danny Davies, chief people officer.

The insurer’s reasons are twofold. “No. 1, we employ smart people. So what’s the point of employing smart people and then telling them how to think?”

No. 2: “It’s better if people can spend their efforts being themselves and doing their work — rather than worrying about looking like some kind of clone from the insurance industry.”

Brokerage Mitchell & Whale has a similar policy — and probably the briefest one in Canada. It’s “stay classy,” Ron Burgundy’s tagline from Anchorman. “It’s our really fun way of telling the team that as long as you’re wearing nothing inappropriate or offensive to anyone else, we’ll support you in whatever you’re wearing and support you for who you are,” said Jenna Minchella, manager of people and culture with Mitchell & Whale.

For both Aviva and Mitchell & Whale, a less-formal dress code is part of providing a great customer experience and achieving company goals.

Both companies had their dress codes in place before COVID, and the policies are unlikely to change post-COVID. “If anything, we’ve gotten more used to people being themselves and being more comfortable,” said Davies.

Davies offered this advice to insurers and brokers with a more formal dress code: “Whatever you think you’re gaining by people wearing particular clothes because they think it’s going to look right to someone else, you’re more than costing in terms of culture and in terms of trying to get people not to be themselves,” he said. “Just let people be themselves.”

But whether your dress code is a pithy phrase or a one-pager, “it’s important for employers to put together a policy so employees know what’s expected of them,” said Clayton.

This is particularly crucial now that more employers will be embracing a hybrid work model. A 2020/21 Mercer survey indicated that 87% of U.S. employers said they’ll adopt more flexibility post-pandemic with a hybrid work model. “If employers are allowing employees to continue to work from home, then more than likely they’re going to adjust these [dress code] policies,” she said.

“If they haven’t already, [employers] are reviewing their policies and making changes based on the new way of work.”


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