Making it easier to request flexible working can work in retailers’ favour, says Joanne Ellul.

During challenging economic times, it’s important that retailers get as much of out their staff as possible. Some retailers are finding that the route to improved productivity can be found in allowing staff more flexibility over their working patterns.

The Government intends to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees and decided this month to extend the right to parents of all children under the age of 18. It currently applies only to parents of children under the age of 17, or 18 if the child is disabled.

A report published in March by office space firm Regus suggests 83% of UK businesses now offer staff some choice about when and where they work. Those that give staff the option say it has benefits - 67% believe that flexible working helps staff achieve a good work/life balance and 40% say that it improves productivity.

Smaller retailers’ tighter resources may make flexible working more difficult to offer. However, at lingerie retailer Bravissimo more staff work part-time than full-time. Two-thirds of its staff work part-time, while the remaining work more than 35 hours a week. A quarter of its 21 managers work a four-day week and three out of five directors work flexibly.

Bravissimo HR director Laura Meneaud says: “Flexible working saves on payroll costs and recruitment fees. We retain great people and attract talent that wants to work for us because they wouldn’t get the same package elsewhere.”

Developing staff for future positions is another benefit. “We look at where the gaps will be and look at who is at the right stage of development and choose them,” Meneaud adds.

One of the main challenges involved with flexible working is communication. Bravissimo plans to launch an extranet to communicate with staff about store and company updates. Store staff in Cardiff and Norwich can also communicate using private Facebook groups.

At health and beauty retailer Superdrug, 80% of staff work flexible hours. HR director Joanne Mackie says: “We need staff to feel connected to the business and flexible working is one of the ways to do that.”

As well as reducing absenteeism, attracting good candidates and improving employee performance, flexible working can make businesses better able to respond to challenges. “We’re launching a beauty loyalty card next month and we’re going to need more people working in stores. Flexible working patterns enable us to do that,” Mackie says.

Like Bravissimo, Superdrug will also launch an extranet and is considering offering remote training this year.

While offering flexible working schemes may soon be the norm for retailers, it is necessary to develop them to meet the challenges they present and realise their benefits.

Flexible working

  • 67% of UK businesses say that flexible working achieves a good work/life balance
  • 40% of UK businesses believe it improves productivity
  • 36% of UK businesses say flexible working makes staff more motivated
  • 43% of retailers only offer flexible working as a privilege to senior staff. However, this is higher than the average of 37% for UK businesses