Investec's Lesley-Anne Gatter reveals rationale behind new flexible leave and dress code policy

Investec staff can take flexible leave days and choose how to dress.

Investec Ltd is introducing new leave and dress practices for all South African employees whereby staff will have the option to have a flexible number of leave days and freedom to choose how to dress based on their tasks/meetings for the day.  Effective from September onwards, Investec employees will have an even more autonomous organisation provided they are meeting their deadlines and adding value to the business with innovate ideas. In this article, Investec head of HR Lesley-Anne Gatter about the motivation for a move that is bound to have a significant impact on the culture of the organisation. Lesley-Anne joined Investec in 2006 and became the head of learning and development in 2007. In this role, she collaborated on the design and delivery of learning initiatives into the organisation, including diversity and leadership development. In 2016, she was appointed as head of HR for Investec Ltd.

How would you describe Investec's culture and how did this inform the decision to change the dress code and leave policies?

Investec is a distinctive specialist bank and asset manager. We are grounded in our entrepreneurial culture, which is balanced by a strong risk management discipline, client-centric approach and the ability to be innovative. We consider the organisation to be a flat structure – a non-hierarchical design where high performance is the focus and employees deliver results through autonomy and with a great deal of freedom to operate. The decision to alter our stance on leave and dress were totally driven by the cultural positioning – we looked to embed artefacts in the environment that demonstrate and push the cultural even further. A dress code that is constrained and limited does not represent the freedom that we seek to entrench and the adult way that we wish to engage employees. Equally with leave, we know that high performance requires well-being, replenishment and that people are not limited by a policy that entitles them to an allotted amount of days but rather that they can have greater flexibility and use the freedom to operate to deliver great results while managing their lives.

We have a deliberate and keen employee value proposition – most significantly, we believe that our culture is the differentiator. To work at Investec is to be in an unique employment space - it’s about the entrepreneurial freedom and culture that we surround talented people with. We focus enormous energy on finding the right people for our culture and put them in environments in which they can flourish, because culture is our competitive edge.

How have the changes been received by employees and what impact, if any?

The changes have been met with a huge amount of positivity, employees have adopted the dress code changes immediately and we’ve seen a boost in both morale, goodwill and care for the brand in how people are dressing. We’ve seen a big uptick in applications for Careers at Investec and meaningful engagement with leaders around the changes.

What was the rationale for introducing the changes?

We have been extremely careful in how we have conceived of the changes and the research that went into deriving the policies. We also ran several pilots across the organisation, in different formats over the course of 18 months or more. The rationale is as described above: seeking to build and craft an employee proposition that perfectly aligns to our culture and articulates our intent meaningfully.

The benefits outweighed the risks quickly for us. The major risk was of perception and abuse of the opportunities afforded to staff and we dismissed these understanding that these policies are about performance and delivery more than they are about time and dress; we are seeking value creation and believe we have a very clear lens now that there is no constraint to hide behind. We also considered how challenging it could be for leaders having to manage in such a fluid, flexible way and this was even more attractive to us as we require leaders who embody and manage the culture materially. Lastly, we investigated and tested around the unintended consequences: employees who take too little leave, don’t alter their dress according to their days for fear of it being misunderstood and worked strategies to assist and enable such situations.  

Other than dress code and leave, are there any other noteworthy adjustments to Investec's people strategy that have recently been implemented and/or are currently under consideration?

We are always tweaking and rethinking our employee value propositions, guided by our culture. There are several initiatives currently under consideration and many more innovations on the way…watch this space.