Chief Executive's Blog: The Importance of Flexible Employment in the Convenience Sector

Hopefully you’ve seen our 2018 Local Shop Report, launched (appropriately, perhaps) at the National Space Centre in Leicester.  There’s loads of data in the report, some of it from our own research, and some kindly provided by our friends at HIM, IGD, William Reed and Experian.  You can go through the information that’s most relevant to your business, but I want to think a bit more deeply about the information related to people working in convenience stores, in the context of the debate in politics at the moment about employment in the UK, where rates of unemployment are very low, but many are concerned about the quality, security and pay associated with some of those jobs. 

The Local Shop Report tells me that convenience stores are an exemplar of good flexible working benefiting retailers and the colleagues they employ.  The report identifies more part-time working and shorter part-time hours and a slight increase in the number of staff per store.  That gives retailers a larger roster of staff to cope with seasonal peaks, holidays and absences, and it allows colleagues to balance other commitments: a third of people working in convenience stores are juggling caring for children, and nearly a quarter are looking after older relatives.

These flexible working patterns – which aren’t anything new but which are becoming more pronounced – work because just like the customers who use our stores, colleagues tend to live locally and incur little or no cost in their short journeys to work.  This means than normal working hours, and additional shifts at short notice, come with very little additional commitment, so all the money earned can go to supporting them and their families, not on travel.

This is not the picture we see with working practices in the gig economy, most commonly associated with companies like Uber or Deliveroo, but also used in the care industry and many others where demand is unpredictable and where the economics of delivering those services don’t allow for people to be paid while not actually working with clients.  I genuinely sympathise with employers and gig economy workers who are juggling supply and demand in intensively competitive and cost-constrained sectors.  But I also empathise with the government as it tries to find a regulatory approach to promote flexibility from both the employers and employees point of view. Every conversation I’ve had with friends in the industry and outside starts with very simple, broadbrush principles of how we should address this challenge, and very quickly gets wrapped up in exceptions, caveats and qualifiers, and a recognition of just how difficult it is to regulate effectively in this area.

We’re working very closely with the Low Pay Commission and the Department for Business to try to arrive at a balanced approach.  Our priority is to make sure that in tackling some negative aspects of flexible working, we don’t regulate to harm good flexible working practices like we see in our sector.  I say this, yes, because I represent the people who run the 46,262 convenience stores in Great Britain and I don’t want to see their ability to trade being unnecessarily restricted.  I also say this because the Local Shop Report tells us that our colleagues are very positive about the benefits of working in the convenience sector: 72% of them are satisfied with their job, 68% see themselves still working in the sector in five years’ time, and there are more colleagues who have been in the sector for more than five years than there are colleagues who have been with us for less than a year. 

In an era of low unemployment, where people have a degree of choice about where they work, that’s a pretty strong endorsement of the sector, and of our approach to flexible working.

This entry was posted by Chris on Fri, 14/09/2018 - 12:33