On 28 September 2017, the British Retail Consortium (BRC), a trade association for retailers in the UK, and Timewise, a leading flexible recruitment specialist, announced their new partnership aimed at improving career progression opportunities for part-time workers in the retail sector.

According to the BRC's report "Retail 2020", many highly-skilled part-time employees in retail (the majority of whom are women) are currently limited to roles on the shop floor due to a lack of flexible working practices in more senior or managerial roles. This has created a glass ceiling, an abundance of overqualified employees in front-line roles, and a talent drain in store management roles.

The new BRC/Timewise partnership aims to integrate a five-stage process of flexible job redesign across the retail sector. In summary, organisations are expected to:

  1. acknowledge that enabling talent progression through flexible working makes good commercial sense;
  2. utilize their own operating culture and capabilities to design flexible working at different job levels and open up progression pathways;
  3. identify which job design options are most appropriate in light of particular staffing needs and operational constraints;
  4. set up pilot projects and measure the impact and efficiency; and
  5. implement change and maximize benefit to both employers and employees.

From a legal perspective, employees with at least 26 weeks' continuous employment have a statutory right to request flexible working. Employers are obliged to deal with such requests in a reasonable manner, and may only refuse a request for one of eight reasons prescribed by the legislation. From a social and cultural perspective, a proactive approach to flexible working is ever more pressing for retailers because of changes in consumer behaviour as they move away from the high street and towards online shopping, and also in the context of narrowing costs margins. Further, the high value placed on flexible working arrangements by many employees encourages loyalty and increases diversity in the workplace by increasing the number of women in senior positions.

In light of this new initiative, retailers should now be taking steps to review their existing flexible working policies and assess their current operating capabilities with a view to implementing the five-stage process (or similar) towards flexible working arrangements and job redesign.