Investec. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Investec. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

News that banking group Investec is joining international brands such as Virgin and Netflix in opting for a flexible dress and leave code has resonated with readers.

That a major financial group, a sector usually associated with a formal corporate environment where you “suit up” like the character Barney Stinson on US sitcom How I Met Your Mother, has decided to embark on its dress-down adventure is just the latest example of how the world of business is changing. 

One would have been run out of town 40 years ago in SA for even suggesting a banker could loosen their tie at work, let alone work flexible hours or take unlimited leave. Even eccentric journalists, many of whom could easily make a Hollywood worst-dressed list, were expected to wear ties and formal shirts when covering court cases, for example.

Thanks to former president Nelson Mandela, who eschewed the Savile Row look in favour of his Madiba shirts, there has been a general relaxation in dress codes in SA, particularly on the political front. It just took a long time for it to filter down to the corporate world. Thankfully, things are beginning to change.  

Investec’s move is likely to be welcomed by staff and we could start seeing some other big companies following suit as they adapt to a changing world where people are increasingly insisting on a better work-life balance, as well as a more relaxed office environment.

After all, the more at ease you are, the better your ideas will be. Companies are realising the best way to retain talent is to keep it happy. Gone are the days of a glowering boss barking orders to unhappy employees chained to their desks. In a world where workers seem on call 24/7 thanks to the digital revolution and the explosion of smartphones, demand for flexibility is on the up.

Increasingly even tattoos — once only associated with sailors, rock stars and criminals — are being accepted in corporate culture. The Financial Times reported in August 2018 that there is growing evidence that “body art is not as much of a hurdle to employment as it was once thought to be”. The same article reports that “in 2015, nearly half of US millennials owned up to a tattoo, as did 30% of Britons of similar age”.  

The older and sometimes grumpier baby boomers and Gen Xers are quick to criticise millennials for being entitled and overly sensitive, but it would seem some of the changes in the corporate world today, including the ubiquitous tattoos, are thanks to them.

According to a November 2018 article in Forbes, millennials are receiving a “lot of flak for the massive transformations occurring in business today” and the change from a “customer-centric to employee-centric experience has redefined business strategies from the ground up”.  

Forbes says many companies are “struggling to adapt and are facing a loss in top talent”.  

“If businesses want to remain competitive in their industry, they have to redesign their business from the bottom up with a focus on the internal culture,” reported the magazine.

What Investec is proposing is definitely going to be a game changer for the group as it looks to try to lure more young talent to its Sandton headquarters at 100 Grayston Drive.

Let’s hope that other titans of SA business see the value in this hip approach and start encouraging a work culture that promotes flexible hours and a far more relaxed dress code. To quote the old Standard Bank adage: “Great ideas don’t keep office hours.”