PositivePeople November 21, 2012 No Comments

Flexible work options – how do we get it right in retail?

Read any article or magazine these days and you will find that flexible working options are top of employees’ list of “must haves” in any roles they consider. Most employers have implemented some kind of flexible work policy, with flexitime and work from home options becoming more and more popular. In fact, in a number of industries it is more the norm to start at 10, work from home one day a week and leave early on Fridays, than to be at the office 8.30 – 5 for five days a week.

The exception to this is the retail employee, who has a week governed by store opening hours, peak trade periods on weekends, and demanding customers who want to be able to shop at any time that’s convenient to them, including following the Friday afternoon work drinks when they finish at 2!

So in a world where the work/life balance is top of mind for most employees and flexible options are constantly evolving, how can we expect our employees to stay in the industry when what’s on offer elsewhere is so appealing? I’m sure every retailer has a story to tell of high performing team members apologising as they hand you their resignation letter, saying they love working for you but the admin job they are taking will give them weekends off or allow them to work around school hours, and who can blame them?

So what does this mean for retailers? Are we doomed to keep losing talented employees from the industry? We are if we don’t keep up and evolve our thinking to offer flexible options which allow our frontline workers to enjoy more time on the activities outside of work that matter to them. The reality is that the opening hours won’t change. If anything they will just get longer as malls and strip shopping innovate to compete for business. Consumers will become more demanding, especially as they become more savvy around online shopping and with it the growing expectations of 24 hour a day shopping. And weekends will always be a crucial time for sales, as the average New Zealand family loves its weekend latte and browse through the shops. Retail therapy is alive and well!

So knowing the constraints and demands of the industry, we need to start thinking of ways to work around these and innovate and improve the way we arrange our rosters and the makeup of our teams. One of the first ways to do this is to ask the teams themselves. What do they want and how do they think this could work better? If your Store Managers came back and said they wanted every second weekend off, and this is how they could do it and maintain sales, wouldn’t you consider it? Especially if it meant holding onto them in the long run?

Trish McLean, CEO of Retail World Resourcing says that this is a conversation she is having more and more with retailers, as top candidates start asking the questions about what is being offered in terms of flexible work options. “ We see a lot of talented candidates, and the package they are seeking has changed markedly over the past few years. Whereas most salary and career progression has always been top of the list, flexibility is now a key concern. The retailers who recognise this, and develop initiatives that offer flexible options to their employees will be the ones that win the war for talent in the future.”

Unfortunately we don’t have a one size fits all answer for this, as every team is different, as is every brand. But we can start you off trying ideas and innovating to keep being competitive in the labour market.

1.Design a roster that has clearly defined roles in school hours and outside school hours. This way you can hire students for one, and parents for the other, and they can swap hours during the school holidays when parents need to be at home and students need money and extra shifts.

2.Encourage your team to think like a team. Have a base roster with hours that need to be filled and it’s up to them who does what as long as they are filled. I have seen this work really well in rural communities where the team support each other and take pride and ownership in the store. If everyone commits to covering two shifts a month for someone else they benefit from the flexibility allowing them to attend important events in their personal lives and help each other out. Peer pressure often weeds out those who won’t play the game.

3.Let your Managers take ownership of their own roster and results. If they know what they need to achieve and the wage budget they have, as long as they stay in budget and reach their targets does it matter who works when? This allows them to set their own roster, which may or may not include weekends and late nights. If they are a good manager they will work the busy periods, at least part of the time, and if they aren’t the privilege can be revoked.

These ideas won’t work for everyone, and there are sure to be many more ways to offer flexible options. The point is it’s about time we, as an industry, started to investigate how we can do this and show some creativity and innovation in our thinking around our workforce. If we don’t we risk becoming a last choice job for most New Zealanders, and losing the potential to recruit the kind of employees we need to keep moving forward and ensure retail in New Zealand remains successful for the future.

The costs of recruitment are high, anywhere between 6 to 12 months of an employee’s salary when all costs are taken into account. So, retention is the way to go, and that, these days, is strongly linked to the flexibility that employees demand. Are we up to providing it?