MILWAUKEE – Insurance companies aren't generally known for letting workers make bold fashion statements in the office.
But when Wausau Insurance Companies executives recently eased the firm's dress code ahead of the Green Bay Packers' first playoff game, hundreds of employees dug out their Brett Favre jerseys and Titletown polos.
"I would say two-thirds of people participated, based upon what I saw in the hallways and cafeteria," said Brad Zweck, spokesman for the Wausau-based company.
A day later Green Bay thumped the Seattle Seahawks 42-20 to advance to this weekend's NFC title game against the New York Giants. The win prompted another bye of the company's dress code.
"The decision was made that it would be appropriate to allow employees to enjoy the moment," Zweck said.
Plenty of other Wisconsin companies are making the same decision. With a berth in Super Bowl XLII hinging on Sunday's game, managers at banks, department stores and hospitals are taking the rare step of relaxing their dress codes to let employees wear Packers gear to work Friday.
Some hope the move will strengthen employee morale. Others say it's just a fun way to support Green Bay's surprising run of success. Few expected the Packers to finish 13-3 this season, even though they overcame a 4-8 start last season to finish with four straight wins.
Some companies have found a relaxed dress code good for sales. At a Beaver Dam branch of Kohl's department store, for example, workers wearing Packers gear provide a bit of free advertising.
"It's good for business because we're showing off the product we sell," store manager Jayne Boebel said. "And it's very well received — people like to show their support for the Packers."
Green Bay tied the Dallas Cowboys for the best regular-season record in the NFC this year, earning the second seed in the playoffs. Then the Giants upset the top-seeded Cowboys 21-17 Sunday, sending the NFC championship game to Lambeau Field this weekend.
Brian Johnson, a marketing communications manager at GE Healthcare in Wauwatosa, is among those encouraging colleagues to show their team spirit Friday. Besides adding levity to the day, the move might foster company spirit, he said.
"When you think about everyone wearing Packers jerseys and shirts, it helps remind all of us we're also part of a winning team," Johnson said. "Walking around, seeing everyone in the same uniform, it might help."
He was considering wearing his Brett Favre jersey.
"I've also got a Bart Starr jersey, which might be an interesting one to pull out," he said. "A lot of people on my team might not know who he is."
Visitors to the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison can expect to see nurses, therapists and pharmacists wearing Packers pins and polo shirts Friday. The dress policy won't apply to doctors since they're not employed by the hospital, spokeswoman Lisa Brunette said.
"But I'm sure a few of them will sneak on a jersey underneath their lab coats," she said.
Even preschoolers will be donning Packers duds. Students at Middleton Preschool in Madison were encouraged to wear Packers gear, or green and gold, on Thursday and Friday.
"The reaction has been mixed," director Joan Stoppleworth said. "Some parents are like, 'Oh, we don't have anything,' and I say, 'It's OK, it's optional.' And some kids are just really excited."
For many companies, the relaxed dress-code policy is a new phenomenon reflecting the Packers' recent return to prominence. But for others, showing Packer spirit has long been a weekly tradition.
At Van Boxtel RV Supermart in Green Bay, employees have been encouraged for about a decade to wear Packers gear before every regular-season game.
"There really isn't a written policy. It was just allowed," sales manager Russ Drake said. "I don't know if anybody made the decision. But nobody banned it."
It's not just Packers fans who benefit from the relaxed dress codes. Most managers said employees would be free to wear gear from any NFL team.
But no one would dare show up in a Giants jersey, Drake said.
"It wouldn't be against company policy," he said. "It would be against commonsense."