Crazy or brave? | M&S' HRD on 'reimagining retail' with new four-day work week in stores

M&S' HRD on 'reimagining retail' with new four-day work week in stores

Deep Dive

This is not JUST a four-day week…In this exclusive interview, Marks and Spencer Group’s HRD talks next-level flexibility and how to keep one of the UK’s busiest retail operations going while being fully flexible.

This week the UK government announced the passing of the Flexible Working Bill, which, according to the gov.uk website, allows “Workers to have a greater say over when, where, and how they work under new government plans to make flexible working the default.”

In addition, the news last week was full of the 100 companies which participated in the four-day work week challenge back in the summer who have announced they’ll now be implementing that arrangement permanently.

Joe Ryle, director of the 4-Day Week Campaign, said in a statement about the success of the initial trial: “We want to see a four-day week with no loss of pay become the normal way of working in this country by the end of the decade."

But whether it’s a four-day work week, or more bespoke flexible arrangements, all the data points toward flexible working as the number one priority for employees – meaning that, for talent attraction and retention, it needs to be the number one priority for HR and management.

Flexible working can “reduce absence rates and allows employees to manage disability and long-term health conditions, as well as supporting their mental health and stress”, according to the CIPD’s Health and wellbeing at work survey. And as per Gartner’s 2021 Digital worker experience survey, the majority of employees said they’re far more productive when working via a flexible setup.

That time, it would seem, to move into fully flexible working arrangements is yesterday.

Which is why, after the crazy busy holiday period has passed, Marks and Spencer will become the first major UK retailer to trial a four-day work week.

HR Grapevine’s Senior Editor Sarah Williams spoke with M&S’s Group HRD, Sarah Findlater, to discuss the hows, the whys and the what-if-it-all-goes-wrongs.

HRGV: Talk us through how a retailer as big as M&S trials something as big as a four-day week.

Findlater: The roll out will begin in January 2023 follows a trial involving 100 stores and 850 managers (more details below). As well as opting for either full-time or part-time hours, managers can choose whether to spread their hours over five days, or to work a four-day compressed week or nine-day compressed fortnight.

Part-time managers will also be able to access their own pro rata version of the new arrangements we have on offer. In our initial 100-store trial, we found that 75% of our Retail Managers participating agreeing that compressed hours had had a positive impact on their family life and 73% said it had a great impact on more time for themselves.

We have found that by affording flexibility, colleagues are incredibly flexible back in return.

HRGV: Where did the idea initially come from?

Findlater: Like most recent changes to the world of work, it was on the back of the pandemic. It got us thinking really hard about how we’ve all radically changed how we've worked during that period. We've changed our attitudes about flexible working, about work-life balance. And we began asking the right questions: How do we build on that momentum? How do we think differently and more boldly and more bravely than perhaps we have done before? We always say that we want to stand for brilliant careers. We want brilliant, talented colleagues to come and join our retail business and work in our stores.

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