Earlier this month HR Magazine published research carried out by Unum, which highlighted that just under half (46%) of women working in retail do not feel well looked after by their employers[i]. This got me thinking as my first job as a student was working in retail. Looking back it was great working as many hours as I could fit in the week, and covering shifts above my contracted hours. These were typically an early morning shift 7:00am – 1:00pm, a core day shift 12:30pm – 8:30pm or a late afternoon 4:30pm – 8:30pm to fit in with lectures and of course a social life.
From taking a look at my former employer’s website, it seems similar shift patterns still operate across its stores on a 2 weekly rota – which means working a different pattern depending on whether its week 1 or 2. In the position I’m in today as a mother of two young children, I couldn’t actually apply for any of the open roles the retailer has advertised in my area. Primarily because of childcare, or lack of childcare availability in the early mornings or late evenings. I’ve not come across a childcare provider that will operate on a 2 weekly schedule either.
Working in retail generally means being flexible – able to take on additional shifts at short notice or accept changes to the shift pattern you were expecting to work. Which again creates a challenge for mothers or anyone with care responsibilities.
Maybe retailers should consider offering a wider range of shifts which would appeal to a wider audience. A good example of this is Pret a Manager who has recently received media attention for bringing back “Saturday jobs”. Pret have created 105-weekend roles since September 2013 to target British teenagers and get them into the workforce[ii].
Retail has evolved to meet the demands of their consumers to have flexibility in the way they shop and, of course, retailers expect flexibility from their workforce, but they don’t all seem to look at flexibility as an employer. For example, how many retailers offer shifts from 9am to 2pm to fit in with school hours and are then flexible enough during holidays to allow employees to change their hours? Additionally, there is a large portion of the workforce who are being excluded from working not because they do not want to work but simply that their circumstances and employer flexibility do not align.
[i] Women in Retail don’t feel looked after by employers (http://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/hro/news/1149478/women-retail-feel-looked-employers)