'Radical overhaul' | Is Asda's four-day week trial enough to allay concerns over company culture?

Is Asda's four-day week trial enough to allay concerns over company culture?

Asda’s trial of a four-day work week is reportedly a counter measure to curb the number of managers heading for the exit door, according to new reports.

As reported by The Telegraph, the supermarket giant, owned by the billionaire Issa brothers, is attempting to slow down the rate of attrition among retail store managers, following a period of cost cutting and concerns over company culture which has apparently seen managers “leaving in their droves”, as one union chief described.

Late last year, senior figures at Asda reportedly raised concerns about a 13.9% increase in turnover of retail managers in 2022.

This rate of attrition had “impacted the stability and capability of our teams in store which in turn has impacted the colleague experience and by extension our customers” according to an internal presentation.

An Asda spokesman said: “Since September 2023, we have been trialling a variety of flexible working patterns for managers in 20 stores, including a four-day working week for the same pay and benefits. “There has been no reduction in the number of hours that hourly-paid colleagues are contracted to work as a result of this trial.

“While we are still evaluating the results, the feedback from participating colleagues has been very positive.

“Asda has also invested a total of £325m in increasing pay for both store-based and logistics colleagues since 2022. For the record, Asda saw a 6pc reduction in colleague turnover between 2022 and 2023.”

But it’s not just staff turnover that should be concerning the retail giant’s leadership.

Workers at the supermarket’s store in Gosport are planning a walkout on January 19 – the first in Asda’s history. The GMB union stated the dispute centres around the staff’s treatment at the hands of store management including constant wage errors, pressure to work extra shifts and numerous health and safety issues.

Nicola Nixon, GMB Regional Organiser said: "This dispute has been brewing for some time now, with local management continuing to ignore growing concerns and an extremely stressed workforce reaching breaking point.

"Complaints were so wide and varied that a list of some 21 points of concern have been drafted to be shared with ASDA national management.

‘Radical overhaul needed’

Nadine Houghton, a national officer at GMB Union, said: “Asda has been forced to accept that all is not well amongst their managers and are attempting to address some of the issues by trialling a reduction in managers’ weekly working hours.

“Unfortunately, this does not address the realities on the shopfloor; traders not being left to trade to their local communities and a continuing decline in the resources available to do their job.

“At some point, Asda will have to accept that a radical overhaul is needed if it wants to attract the talent required to make Asda a success.”

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The risk of burnout

A recent study from Deloitte revealed that a staggering 91% of professionals work beyond their contracted hours, compromising their wellbeing and, consequently, organisational productivity.

And whilst it may well be the responsibility of managers to mitigate burnout in their teams, it seems that many are not equipped to deal with the issue. Microsoft's Work Trend Index recently found that 53% of managers report feeling burned out themselves, actually surpassing the average for employees.

This unprecedented situation has left managers grappling with heightened responsibilities, managing evolving demands with limited resources, and often receiving little recognition for their efforts. To combat burnout effectively, it is crucial for leadership and HR to grasp the components of burnout and take proactive measures.

What burnout really means

Burnout, as defined by researcher Christina Maslach, manifests as exhaustion, cynicism, and a perceived lack of professional accomplishment. Microsoft's research identifies six key factors contributing to burnout: unsustainable workload, lack of control, insufficient rewards, absence of a supportive community, perceived unfairness, and a mismatch of values and skills.

The study highlights the unique challenges managers face, juggling high workloads and the responsibility of ensuring their teams thrive. The consequences of burnout among managers are dire—reduced productivity and increased turnover. Managers experiencing all three dimensions of burnout are a staggering 5.3 times more likely to leave their positions, underscoring the urgency for organisations to address this issue head-on.

Mitigating burnout among managers requires a multifaceted approach. Meaningful work, continuous learning and career development, flexible work arrangements, psychological safety, and self-care emerge as critical levers in combating burnout. Organizations must foster an environment where managers feel comfortable discussing their challenges, seeking support, and actively participating in creating a healthy work culture.

As we delve into the statistics of burnout across industries, a concerning trend emerges. Future Forum's research indicates that burnout has reached an all-time high since spring 2021, with over 40% of full-time workers reporting burnout. Two vulnerable groups stand out—women and workers under 30. Gen Z and younger Millennials, entering the workforce amid the pandemic's uncertainties, grapple with high stress levels, lack of autonomy, and economic concerns.

For women, the burnout gender gap continues to widen, with intersecting stressors such as gender inequities, lack of promotions, and the burden of unpaid labour exacerbating the issue. The worsening child-care crisis adds another layer of stress, with women facing challenges in maintaining work-life balance.

Deloitte's marketplace survey delves into the drivers and impact of burnout, revealing that 77% of respondents have experienced burnout, with many feeling their employers fall short in addressing the issue. Workplace culture, recognition from leadership, and effective well-being programs emerge as pivotal factors in preventing burnout.

As we stand in the early days of 2024, burnout threatens to become the workplace epidemic of the year. It demands a collective effort from leaders, organisations, and employees to prioritise mental health, redefine work cultures, and implement strategies that foster a sustainable and supportive professional environment. The challenge is clear, and the response must be swift and comprehensive to prevent burnout from becoming an enduring legacy of our times.

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