Hybrid working has become the norm for office-based employees. However, supermarket staff on the shop floor – many of whom kept the country going during the pandemic – are yet to see the same benefits as their head office peers. This is an escalating issue that businesses in the sector can’t continue to ignore.
Some retailers are doing something about it. We’re seen a push by companies such as Tesco to try and establish industry standards on frontline benefits. Initiatives such as job sharing have been welcomed to give more flexibility to those who can’t work remotely.
It’s a good start, but it requires shift managers to foster environments in which employees feel comfortable enough to request the flexibility they need, without fear or judgement. This could be easier said than done.
One way managers can create those working environments is by spending time getting to know the people in their teams, and creating open lines of communication. It’s much easier for colleagues to talk about their needs in an informal one-on-one setting, which could be stacking shelves or unloading boxes, so spending time with their direct reports on the shop floor is invaluable.
Fixed weekly shift patterns built around individual needs should also be encouraged and made accessible across the board, regardless of the reason. Whether someone is protecting their mental health or they want to make it to a particular gym class, the request should be considered.
It does need to work for the business too – 24-hour supermarkets can’t operate if everyone decides they want to finish at 3pm. However, simply giving employees the opportunity to have these sorts of conversations makes a huge cultural difference, contributing to morale and productivity.
But even with these initiatives in place, we’re still likely to see frontline employees making a case for higher salaries in the coming months and years. After all, hybrid staff make significant cost savings through reducing their travel – and this is a bitter pill to swallow when office workers are usually paid more too.
As the dust starts to settle on hybrid working, it’s high time frontline workers are recognised financially as well. That doesn’t have to come through a higher salary – seasonal loan tickets or paying a proportion of their travel expenses can also be ways to reduce outgoings during a period of high inflation. Either way, future job applicants will be looking for both flexible working and fair(er) pay.
Equality of experience shouldn’t just be afforded on the basis of seniority or tenure. Flexible working policies should be available to frontline employees from day one. If office-based teams get to work in a hybrid way as standard, then it stands to reason those working in warehouses or on the shop floor should start on an equal footing.
Flexible working and compensation will inevitably look different for an office-based employee versus frontline colleagues. However, policies designed to offer a workplace experience that is as equitable as possible, and recognises the equal contribution made by everyone across the organisation, is fundamental to ensuring all parties feel valued.
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