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PRESS RELEASE: Leading UK retailers act to unlock talent and productivity

Timewise announces the launch of its inaugural Retail Pioneer Programme – a bespoke job-design pilot scheme for retailers seeking to maximise the productivity benefits of workplace flexibility and diversity.

  • RetailB&Q, COOK, Dixons Carphone, Tesco and The John Lewis Partnership, who collectively employ over 455,000 people1 – join pioneering new pilot scheme which will test how to unblock the career progression for part time workers, through greater flexible working opportunities in managerial roles.
  • Led by flexibility experts Timewise, the Retail Pioneer Programme – a bespoke sector specific job design initiative – has the potential to unlock the talent and productivity of thousands of retail workers.
  • The retail industry – the UK’s largest private sector employer – employs an estimated 1.5 million people in roles that pay at or just above the national minimum wage, with the majority working part time2. A significant proportion CHOOSE to do so, because of the flexibility in working hours.
  • However, the lack of part time opportunities in retail management roles is trapping thousands of skilled workers from progressing their careers and raising their earnings, and inhibiting retailers from maximising their skills to improve productivity3.
  • The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is working with Timewise to galvanise the industry to take action when it comes to flexible working and flexible hiring, as an effective means to improve talent attraction, retention and progression.

London, Tuesday 16 May 2017 – Timewise, the leading change agent for the flexible recruitment market in the UK, today announces the launch of its inaugural Retail Pioneer Programme – a bespoke job-design pilot scheme for retailers seeking to maximise the productivity benefits of workplace flexibility and diversity, along with B&Q, COOK, Dixons Carphone, Tesco and The John Lewis Partnership.

The retail industry is the UK’s largest private sector employer, employing an estimated three million people. With over half (1.5 million) working in roles that pay at or just above the national minimum wage, and the majority doing so part time2, the opportunity to have flexibility in working hours is cited as one of the most important reasons to choose to work within the industry.

However, the lack of lack of part time opportunities in retail management roles means that employees often become trapped by their need for flexibility, not by a lack of skills, and are unable to progress their careers. Whilst 56 per cent of retail employees believe they are less likely to get promoted if they work part time, over half (65 per cent) state that they would want to progress into a managerial role if they could maintain a flexible or part time working pattern3.

The retail industry is facing acute challenges, and a post-Brexit labour market may bring skills shortages at a time when the industry is trying to enhance its productivity. The need to attract, retain and progress the best possible talent, has never been more important.

Timewise’s initial 12-month pilot scheme will work with the inaugural five retailers – who in total employ over 455,000 people nationwide1 – to identify operational constraints on working flexibly or part time in managerial roles, and how to redesign jobs to overcome them.

The Retail Pioneer Programme follows the successful flexible job design pilot conducted with Pets at Home, the UK’s largest pets retailer. In 2016, in association with the UK Futures Programme4 , Timewise worked with the business to make better use of its existing talent, by re-designing management roles to be available on a part time basis. This provided a clear route and opportunity for promotion for its female workers – who constitutes the majority of its part time workers, and who until then had been blocked in low-pay, entry-level roles.

Research among Pets at Home employees found that the ratio of men and moving off the shop floor into assistant manager roles was double that of women, and that the lack of flexibility in management roles was a major contributing factor. The job design process identified job-share partnerships and a four-day-week as viable options, which were in turn made available for store management roles.

Pets at Home are now rolling-out the programme across all stores nationally.


  • 5 million people currently work in roles that pay at or just above the national minimum wage, and the majority work part time2.
  • 56% of retail employees believe they are less likely to get promoted if they work part time3.
  • 65% of frontline retail employees would take a job for which they were overqualified, if it offered flexibility in hours3.
  • YET, over half of part time workers in retail are interested in career progression and would accept promotion IF they could take their part time and flexible arrangements with them.


Emma Stewart MBE, CEO & Co-Founder, Timewise, says: Flexibility in working hours is one of the most important reasons why people choose to work in retail. With a post-Brexit labour market in sight, jobs designed with their people in mind, is what will create a win-win situation for UK retailers – from being able to attract the best possible people, maximising the skills of their existing talent, ensuring career progression, and addressing challenges such as low productivity.

We’re thrilled to be working with our inaugural retail pioneers, and we hope it will inspire more retailers to explore flexible job design when it comes to future-proofing their talent strategies.”

Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive, British Retail Consortium, says “As the largest private sector employer in the UK with three million people working across retail and wholesale, the pay and progression of our staff is incredibly important to us.

Our Retail 2020 research revealed that flexibility is the second most important reason to work in retail, but in some cases this is a trade-off which may hold some people back from fulfilling their potential or optimising their pay. It is important that these part-time workers are able to progress within organisations when they choose to and we’re delighted to be part of the Retail Pioneer Programme, to support retailers with the task of delivering these opportunities in flexible ways. Such collaboration is important to ensure retail remains an attractive industry to work and grow in.”

Vicky Hill, Head of People, Pets at Home, says At Pets at Home, we pride ourselves on being a great place to work and we really live our Value of ‘Getting Better Every Day’.  We decided to work with Timewise to help us see our business with a fresh pair of eyes so we could do just that.  We wanted to understand how we can help all our colleagues’ progress and develop whether they work full time or part time. 

By building our understanding of job redesign, we identified ways to successfully encourage more current and future colleagues to talk to us about flexible working, and build clear routes to enable our people to progress their careers with Pets at Home on a flexible basis.”

Natasha Adams, People Director UK & Ireland at Tesco PLC, says:Flexible working arrangements allow us to attract and retain the best people in the industry. We are delighted to be working with Timewise on this programme which will help us to ensure all our colleagues, in all job roles and at all levels, have the opportunity to get on.”

Tracey Killen Director of Personnel at the John Lewis Partnership, says “At the John Lewis Partnership, we have the strategic ambition to deliver better jobs, for better performing Partners, on better pay.  Enabling flexible ways of working allows us to attract, retain and maximise the talent of our existing Partners, ultimately helping Partners to progress their careers.”

Helena Feltham, HR Director, B&Q, says: “B&Q is delighted to be part of Timewise’s new pilot scheme. We recognise that a flexible approach – one where hours flex as employees’ situations change – is key to attracting and retaining the best talent and expertise in our business.  Many of B&Qs older workers have retired from other organisations and have joined us because we offer flexible hours so that they can continue to earn money working fewer hours. For many older workers, this helps them to balance their lives around work and being a grandparent or a carer. The Timewise trial will help us to understand how we can embrace this flexibility in our managerial roles too.”

Katie Bickerstaffe, CEO for UK&I, Dixons Carphone, says “We are committed to having a diverse and flexible workforce that mirrors the demands of our customers, combined with our desire to support all colleagues in progressing their career with us we are excited to be part of the Retail Pioneers programme and look forward to the insight and ideas it can give us to be even better at flexibility in managerial roles here at Dixons Carphone.

Rosie Brown, Managing Director, COOK, says: “We are delighted to be working with Timewise – flexible working is increasingly key for any company aspiring to be a progressive employer.  It will be hugely beneficial to our teams and business if we can get it right when designing roles that can be done on a flexible basis.  We have always championed part time leadership roles in the office, and are looking forward to exploring what is possible in retail and manufacturing roles too.  A really exciting opportunity.”

Published May 2017

– ENDS –

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 1 The overall headcount of the five participating retailers is of 455,577, broken down as follows: The John Lewis Partnership (86,700), Dixons Carphone (29,655), Tesco (310,000), B&Q (28,322), and COOK (900).

2 Source: British Retail Consortium ‘Retail 2020’ Report 2: What Our People Think [May 2016]. This definition of ‘low pay’ precedes the introduction of the government’s ‘National Living Wage’ set at £7.20 for those aged 25 and over in April 2016. See pg 6

Tooley Street Research Analysis carried out in 2015. Total sample size of low-paid retail workers earning less than 20% above the national minimum wage was 1,417 giving a sample size of 156 for the smallest group: ‘pensioner or nearly’. The implied UK population size of low paid retail workers according to this definition is 1.5m.

3 Source: British Retail Consortium ibid: 56 per cent of frontline employees think promotion is less likely to happen for part time workers; and 53 per cent of part time retail employees would accept promotion if they could.

4 UK Futures Programme: launched in 2014, it is programme launched by government-backed UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), to support employers who want to work collaboratively to test new ways to boost workforce skills.

About Timewise

Timewise ( is a multi-award winning social business and leading change agent for the flexible recruitment market in the UK.

Experts in flexible hiring, with 12 years of experience, Timewise is led by co-founders Karen Mattison and Emma Stewart, CEO, who have been made MBEs and won a range of awards for their work (see below).

Timewise undertakes a range of activities to articulate the business benefits of quality part time and flexible work, designed to boost the number of jobs that are advertised with flexible working possibilities in the UK, and provides a range of advisory and recruitment services for employers.

The Group’s three business divisions include:

  • Timewise, consultancy working with businesses to help them make flexible working a commercial success – sharing market insights, delivering training and consultancy and sharing research
  • Timewise Jobs ( the UK’s first national jobs board exclusively for roles which are part time or open to flexibility, with over 90,000 registered candidates
  • Timewise Foundation, market making through sharing learnings with policy makers, opinion formers and employer networks. This public affairs work promotes the social and business benefits of quality part time and flexible work, aiming to influence both the mainstream recruitment market and public policy

Timewise’s work has been recognised by thought leaders, policy makers and the business community, including: Resolution Foundation, the Confederation of British Industry, the Greater London Authority, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Cabinet Office, the Recruitment Employment Confederation, the Chartered Institute for Professional Development and the British Chamber of Commerce.

Organisations that have advertised jobs through us, or used our consultancy service, include EY, Diageo, ITV, Sony Entertainment, Macmillan Cancer Support, McDonalds, EasyJet and more.


Karen and Emma have been named ‘Breaking the Mould’ award winners by the Institute of Directors (November 2014), ‘Women Changing the Business World’ by the IoD’s Director magazine (February 2014) two of the UK’s ‘Top 50 Radicals’ by the Observer and NESTA (Feb 2012) two of the ‘most exciting social entrepreneurs to watch’ by Real Business Magazine and named ‘Small Business Heroes’ by Management Today (May 2013).

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