Building flexibility into a career in retail

Head of HR, Katie Shaw, shares her thoughts on how we are building flexibility into our Retail Management roles through our newly launched initiative, Worklife.

2020 was a landmark year for the evolution of flexible working, changing the landscape of where and how we work. It also represented a change in attitude to flexible working and a cultural shift across the globe, giving equal weight to colleague wellbeing, personal commitments and productivity.

Based on feedback from across the business and an idea submitted through our International Womens’ Day ‘Ideathon’, we set out to trial new ways of working for our Retail Managers, building flexibility and better work life balance into our customer facing roles. We didn’t just listen to the idea, we really went for it to test if the idea could work in principle and the best way to structure that to deliver both for the business and our colleagues.

In 2022, we launched a pilot for our Retail Managers across 100 of our stores, giving them the option to work a compressed 4-day week or 9-day fortnight with pro-rated versions for those already working part time. At the same time, we also launched our ‘Job Share Finder’ app, allowing colleagues to connect with their peers to create job shares that would work for them.

Implementing this trial was no easy feat. Being able to offer flexible working options isn’t just an HR decision. Backed by our Retail Stores Director, Helen Milford, my team and I worked closely with finance, pay and rewards, inclusion and diversity, communications and, of course, our retail teams across the UK and Republic of Ireland to scope, develop and launch the trial. I absolutely believe the trial and the work that went into it was worth doing and the feedback validated that - with 75% of the participating retail managers stating that compressed hours had a positive impact on their family life.

I’ve heard personal stories of colleagues who took part in the trial and how it, ultimately, made them happier. From childcare to caring for an elderly parent to reducing travel costs to simply investing time in a new hobby, building flexibility into a rewarding career in retail is a ‘win win’ for our workforce. And so, from January 2023, more than 3,000 Marks and Spencer Retail Managers will have additional flexible working options available to choose from to suit their lifestyle and personal commitments.

This isn’t just a game changer for our colleagues though. Disrupting the retail industry in this way will, I believe, have positive ripple effects across many different industries. When I originally shared the outcome of the trial on my personal Linkedin channel, the post received over 7000 likes and 500K views, which is another indication that M&S are trailblazing ways of working and doing what’s right for the business and our colleagues.

This isn’t the end though. We are already reviewing other areas of our business to see how our Worklife Policy could be expanded. As part of this, we're speaking to every customer assistant and reviewing their hours with them, giving them more choice in their work patterns and greater notice of their shifts to allow them to plan their lives outside of work with confidence.

I’m extremely proud of this project and the results so far. Led by Group HR Director, Sarah Findlater, it demonstrates that as a business, we refuse to stand still. We’ll continue to adapt and innovate, listen to our colleagues and put ideas into action to benefit operational activity and individual wellbeing, while continuing to offer the best possible service for our customers.

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