Joanna Jacobs flexible hiring quote

The retail industry is well known for its availability of part-time roles in store, enabling students, mothers, carers and others to combine work with other responsibilities. But how often does this level of flexibility continue as you move up the career ladder into managerial roles in store, the field or support centres?

Flexible working, according to TimeWise - a consultancy that focuses on flexibility - is defined as “anything that gives employees flexibility on how long, where and when they work”.

Internally, the industry has made progress. Examples range from agile working in office spaces to the complete redesign of store management roles, as one leading pet retailer achieved, thus creating flexible, part time and job share opportunities and unblocking the female talent pipeline. This is a much-needed initiative given research by the British Retail Consortium that found 56% of all part-time employees in retail feel promotion was out of reach for them.

But what about externally, at point of hire?

Across all industries, only 6.2% of all vacancies paying upwards of £20,000 are advertised as being open to flexible working [TimeWise, Flexible Jobs Index 2015/16]. In fmcg, some major companies are proudly and publicly showing their support for flexible hiring, with the likes of Diageo, Innocent and Kellogg’s backing the ‘Hire Me My Way’ campaign that seeks to create one million flexible job vacancies, annually, by 2020.

So what is preventing grocery retail from getting behind flexible hiring? Given how well it does this at store level, and many retailers now have the technology to support working flexibly in terms or location and hours for non-customer facing roles, why is the sector not bolder and prouder of the opportunities available?

Indeed, there are several reasons why grocery retailers should get behind flexible hiring.

To support increasing the diversity amongst the managerial and senior populations. Millennials, to whom the industry has always held a less than attractive employer brand, value trust and freedom, so want to be judged on the results achieved, wherever, whenever they work, and not the number of hours they spend working at their office desk.

To remain competitive in the external talent market, grocery retail needs to compete with the level of flexibility other industries offer. For example in the 2015 ‘Power Part Time List’, a survey celebrating the top 50 business leaders who have held a successful senior part-time career, 50% were from banking or consultancies; Innocent, Diageo and Proctor & Gamble represented fmcg, but Dixons Carphone Warehouse and Amazon were the only retailers to be included.

It makes industry sense… The disruptive impact of digital to the shape of the industry leading to ‘fewer, better jobs’ according to the BRC means we need the brightest and creative minds to want to work for us, not a consultancy or a bank, who we’ve seen are the prominent supporters of flexible working.

…and economic sense. Looking at the demographic of mothers alone, research by Digital Mums and the CEBR (WorkThatWorks, 2016) found there are 1.7m stay-at-home mothers locked out of the labour market who would return if their role offered flexibility. 86% of mothers surveyed felt their skills and experience had been compromised to achieve the required flexibility. If more professional, flexible skilled jobs were available, enabling stay-at-home mothers who wanted to return to work to do so, or enable already working mothers to utilise their skills and experiences, it would generate an extra 66m worked hours per week, the equivalent of 1.76m FTE employees, or £62.5bn to the economy.

So what can be done?

At an organisational level, you could:

At an individual level:

  • · Have great conversations with your team; find out what flexibility means to them. What might it help with? What would they need to make it work? What are the boundaries that you would both agree to?
  • · Role model flexible working yourself; demonstrate to your team, peers and seniors that you can be more efficient, creative and balanced by working flexibly.