Union survey reveals anger over culture and workload at top stationer

WHSmith store managers have slammed chief executive Kate Swann’s regime, accusing the retailer of not caring for its staff.

In a confidential survey of the chain’s store managers obtained by Retail Week, nearly 80 per cent of respondents said that they felt the retailer did not care about its employees. 70 per cent said that they would not recommend working for the company and 57 per cent accused the company of not providing a good service to customers.

The survey reflects the dramatic changes at WHSmith under the low-profile Swann, who has become a darling of the City for restoring the profitability of the business, despite falling like-for-like sales. However, comments from the store managers suggest that the efficiency drive has hit morale hard.

The survey was carried out by respected trade union the Retail Book Association (RBA), whose members are primarily WHSmith store managers. About 300 managers took part, two thirds of whom have been with the company for more than 10 years.

In a statement, WHSmith described the findings as “unrepresentative”, because only a third of store managers had replied to the survey. “The survey was carried out immediately after a period of enormous change at WHSmith, which included changes to our final salary pension scheme,” the retailer said. It plans to discuss the findings of the survey with the RBA.

Many of the responses to the survey suggest that store managers feel overworked. 86 per cent said that they felt unable to do the work expected of them in the time available and 74 per cent said that they felt pressured to work long hours. 63 per cent said that they could not balance their home and work responsibilities.

The survey also included a list of comments that were added to the surveys, every one of which was negative. One manager said: “I have never known staff in one of my stores being so disillusioned… They used to be proud to work for WHSmith, but not any more.”

Another said: “The company views its people as just another cost.” And one more said: “The company no longer has any regard or concern for its employees.”

There were some positive findings from the survey. The majority of store managers believed that communication from the company was good, that they have received sufficient training and that they were treated fairly and with respect. “There is as much positive in the survey findings as there is negative,” said RBA president David Pickles.