City workers

Who you employ can prove the difference between success and failure, but how people are being employed keeps hitting the headlines.

Some retailers have been accused of implementing zero-hours contracts as a panacea to managing the seasonal ebbs and flows of sales. However, zero-hours contracts aren’t the only option. Organisations are becoming much more creative in introducing agile working practices that both drive business performance, address workforce issues and increase staff engagement. Such practices could include phased retirement, retired affiliates, multi-skilling, and annualised hours, for example.

If choosing to use zero-hours contracts, retailers must be sure they are used effectively and fairly. Zero-hours contracts should only be used where the flexibility suits both the retailer and the individual, and the work is genuinely temporary. If there is a fixed amount of work each week, or staff are required to be “on call” at certain times, alternative arrangements should be considered; this could be guaranteed or fixed-hours contracts, which reflect more stable, scheduled working patterns.

Given the confusion surrounding zero-hours contracts, employers may consider investing time training staff. For example, retailers could issue a brief explanation to new recruits on the key terms, their employment status and corresponding rights. For those involved in managing staffing requirements, retailers could offer training on how to arrange work on a zero-hours basis, so the business operations reflect the contractual terms.

Over time, written terms can be overtaken by working practices. It is therefore advisable to periodically assess whether the engagement remains appropriate, taking into account the contractual terms and the reality in practice. If a regular working pattern has developed, or there is an expectation the individual will work a certain number of hours each week, either party could explore adapting the contract.

Offering a range of different contracts to employees gives individuals more autonomy over their working arrangements, helping them enjoy work and home life, and stay in long-term employment.

Liz Claydon is UK head of consumer markets at KPMG