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Modern retail: a nation of part-time shopkeepers?

A report on Timewise’s Retail Pioneer Programme, in which we worked with five leading retailers, exploring how to build flexible career paths for store managers.

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Flexibility in working hours is one of the most important reasons cited for choosing to work in retail1. And yet employees who need flexibility all too often become trapped in shop-floor roles by the lack of opportunities to work part-time or flexibly at store management level.

Following an initial pilot with Pets at Home, Timewise launched our Retail Pioneer Programme in 2017, developed with the BRC and five pioneer partners: B&Q, Cook, Dixons Carphone, Tesco and the John Lewis Partnership.

We set out to understand what was getting in the way of offering flexible working at store management level. Through in-depth research with each of the five retailers, we interrogated and challenged the cultural and operational barriers to flexibility. We then identified key changes needed to break down the barriers, so that employees who need flexibility can progress their careers and employers can make the best use of their talent.


Current take-up of flexible working at the five Retail Pioneers’ stores

  • 50%-75% of all store staff work part-time
  • 1%-23% of supervisors or managers work part-time
  • Only 6%-25% of promotions are awarded to part-time staff

How retail staff feel about current practice

  • 36% are dissatisfied with current flexibility or work life balance
  • 52% are interested in promotion if they can keep their current working arrangement
  • 40% believe they would need to work full-time to achieve promotion
  • 49% think part-time managers have full-time workloads


Under-utilisation of skills
Talented people who need flexibility are being underdeveloped because of the lack of flexible career progression. This might encourage them to leave the industry, and deter others from joining it.

Diversity issues and the gender pay gap
For some of the five retailers, attracting female talent to their stores was a particular challenge. Other retailers had a diverse gender mix at shop floor level, but this reduced dramatically at supervisor or manager roles. As flexible working is disproportionately attractive to women, there is a real opportunity for flexible career pathways to have a positive impact on the gender pay gap for retailers.


Our research points to the need for a 2 step change process:

1   Redesign existing part-time managerial jobs to make them achievable and attractive, supporting management teams to explore how they can redesign workloads and schedules collaboratively.

2   Open up all roles to flex, promoting and hiring people flexibly into managerial roles.

Based on the insights revealed by our research, we worked closely with each of the five retailers to develop tailored action plans containing our recommended job design options. We have been delighted with the responses from the Pioneers, who are taking a variety of approaches, depending on their particular findings and their business priorities.

1 Retail 2020, What Our People Think, May 2016, BRC

Published May 2018

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