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“Happy home life, happy work life” – helping Wickes make management roles flexible

How our pilot with the retail company is helping shift the company culture and transform lives for management-level frontline staff.

By Amy Butterworth, Head of Consultancy, Timewise

It’s no secret that retail is a tough nut to crack when it comes to flexible working. The industry is the UK’s largest private sector employer, with around 5 million people in its workforce. But while some roles, such as sales assistants and head office staff, tend to allow for some part-time and flexible working, there’s a real lack of these opportunities within retail management. And that, in turn, is having a knock-on effect on companies’ ability to attract and keep staff.

So it’s pretty big news that Wickes, the home improvement retailer, is committing to making all roles open to flexible working, from the point of hire. What’s driving this decision? And how can they be so sure that it’s the right one? The answer – because they are passionate about creating a workplace culture where all colleagues can feel at home and thrive and because they’ve worked with us to explore the art of the possible and test it out.

Piloting a new approach for in-store managers

While Wickes have had real success in making entry-level in-store roles more flexible, they had become aware that access to flexible management roles was very limited, and that their managers were finding it challenging to fit their responsibilities into their allocated hours. So before approaching us for support, they did some digging to try and find out why.

The process saw them interrogate the responsibilities of three management roles: store managers, operations managers and duty managers. This revealed occasional confusion about who should be doing what, which in turn was limiting the managers’ efficiency and effectiveness. It also highlighted that some managers felt a responsibility to be in-store that didn’t necessarily match service needs.

Mark Reynolds is Store Manager of Wickes in Tottenham. He says:

“Before the trial I was probably doing five long days in store. I remember having my review. I’d just won Store Manger of the Year. But my home life wasn’t great. My daughter was 3.5 and my other was newborn.”

“I’m a self-confessed workaholic, and put in all the hours I can. But I had started to realise that a change was needed. I wasn’t getting any time at home with my wife. She was getting no support from me. And I had started to drift from my friends, who always get together at weekends (when I used always to be working).”

Tanya Tozer works in the Worksop store. She has 3 children – all girls, aged 5, 9 and 12. Her middle daughter, Ava-May, has a rare genetic condition called De Grouchy syndrome which requires a lot of support at home. She says: “I didn’t think I needed to change my working pattern, but on reflection, I needed the respite more than I let on, more probably than even I realised I needed it. I had been struggling with my mental health.”

So, building on our many years of experience, we worked with the Wickes team to design, trial and evaluate a six-month pilot across 14 Wickes stores. This saw us supporting the managers to redesign their working patterns, with some opting to work four longer days in-store, and others flexing their hours across the week in a way that suited their lives.

They also kept a reflective diary to track their working hours, and identify why they might be working more than they should. And they were supported by us, and each other, with monthly feedback and learning calls.

The importance of ‘playing in position’ and other key learnings

As always with our pilots, we put in place a robust system of tracking and evaluation so we could really understand what worked and why. From this, we gained some valuable learnings, including:

  • The importance of trust, open communication, and taking a team-based approach to rota design – so that changes made by one team member weren’t at the expense of others
  • The need for managers to improve their self-discipline – in terms of ringfencing time off, letting go and delegating effectively
  • The value of being open-minded about flexible working patterns, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach – so they could be adapted to suit different individuals and teams

The pilot also busted the long-held myth that managers need to be on-site at all hours, and highlighted the fact that when managers step back, they create space for their junior colleagues to step up.

There was no negative impact on store performance or KPIs, and the feedback we received from the pilot participants speaks for itself; 96.5% of store managers were either ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their work-life balance at the end of the pilot (up from 66.5% pre-pilot).

How the changes Wickes has piloted are changing lives

But perhaps the best way to demonstrate the impact of the pilot is to hear from the people involved.

Tanya says the change to her working pattern, has changed her life: “Now, I can go to the gym, I can do some crafting. I have always had Tuesdays off, as these tend to be hospital days. But having Fridays off is really making a difference in my life. The girls are in school. It is my day for me.”

And it has also helped her team: “I think it’s had a really positive impact on the team. It has helped everyone feel more accountable. I’ve had to strengthen some of my weaker areas; build in more planning and more structure. I’ve also had to delegate more and it has been great to see the team step up to the challenge and grow.”

And here’s Mark again, on how this different way of working has affected him personally:

“At first, I felt a lot of guilt and responsibility. But gradually I realised – it was just about setting a new norm. Getting the processes in place was not easy, but once you get there – it’s a different way to live and work. A better one. I’ve developed a new phrase: happy home life, happy work life. I am a happier me.”

He’s also clear about the effect he believes it will have on the future of Wickes, and the retail industry as a whole:

“We have a WhatsApp group called Trailblazers – we all believe we are part of shaping the next generation. We feel part of something special. At the moment I am looking at ways to retain colleagues who are mothers, and possibly help them onto the management track. Make one small change and a thousand more will follow… people will stay and build their careers as their lives change. I don’t see any negatives whatsoever.”

“What’s the right thing to do?”

Unsurprisingly, given the pilot’s success, Wickes are now rolling it out across all stores to more roles, those of duty manager and operations manager. They’re doing so as part of our wider Flexible Working for All action research programme, supported by Impact on Urban Health, with Guys’ and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and Sir Robert McAlpine also taking part, which aims to show the impact of embedding good quality flexible working for all on both employees and organisations.

And as Louise Tait, Wickes’ Head of HR, OD and Talent noted when she appeared as a panellist at a Timewise webinar, there’s a hope within Wickes that the retail industry will have a mindset shift and start asking “What’s the right thing to do” when it comes to offering flexible working. With this kind of evidence of the power of flex to change companies’ cultures and people’s lives, why wouldn’t they?

Published January 2024

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