flexible working

Brits want flexible working but just 6% of job adverts offer it. Elit Rowland looks at what wholesalers can do to help.

Flexible working can boost productivity, happiness and corporate culture. So why do so few wholesalers offer a formal policy?

Wholesale isn’t a sector that has traditionally been associated with ‘flexible working’, but the development of instant messaging and video conferencing has made it easier than ever to work just about anywhere, any time.

According to the Office for National Statistics, there are already 4m Britons who work from home – the highest levels since records began. A predicted 60% of office-based employees will regularly work from home by 2022, according to a survey by Virgin Media Business, while according to recruitment firm Office Angels, a third of us believe that commuting will be unheard of in 2036.

There is also growing evidence that flexible working can bring higher levels of productivity – as many as 91% of workers believe they get more work done when working remotely and are almost twice as likely to work more than 40 hours a week, according to a report from Tiny Pulse. Reducing travel time – and travel stress – can also help employees to feel happier in their jobs and increase loyalty to the business.

A barrier to progress

Yet, despite mounting evidence about its benefits, and aside from a few informal arrangements between managers and individual employees, there are still few flexible working policies in the wholesale workplace, which can be a challenge for any recruitment campaign.

The lack of opportunities for flexible working was voted as the biggest challenge for women working in wholesale (52%), followed closely by a lack of career paths (43%), in research recently carried out by Him!.

And it’s not just an issue for women: 70% of dads want more flexible working, too, according to the Modern Families Index Report; a further 38% would happily take a pay cut if it meant that they could spend more time with their families.

Offering flexible working is an important part of a company’s image and corporate culture. Last year, Expedia was voted the top UK company to work for. An anonymous employee review said that a ‘flexible working environment’ enabling them to cope ‘easily’ with having children was one of the key benefits.

An attractive corporate culture where people feel they are supported and that their career fits around their lifestyle is an important part of any wholesaler’s recruitment campaign – and there’s a great opportunity to attract some of the UK’s top talent, as just 6% of job adverts offer flexible working options, despite the high demand.

Flexible working includes remote working. While many wholesale jobs do not lend themselves to this, such as warehouse or delivery roles, there are opportunities to identify positions that embrace it. Some wholesalers, such as Bidfood, have embedded flexible and remote working into their forward planning.

But there are certain considerations to make before launching a successful flexible working policy. Trust and support are key, of course, but there are four important factors that can create a healthy flexible working environment, to the benefit of both parties: setting goals, providing the tools, having a hands-off approach and measuring productivity.

The world is changing and recruitment and retention strategies must adapt to keep pace. So, while much has been written about using technology to improve customer service in wholesale, we must also embrace it internally to provide the best working environment and attract and keep the best employees.

Top tips for managers on flexible working

Set goals: Managers and workers should define what is expected from remote or flexible working, and communicate it clearly at one-to-one meetings.

Provide the tools: Managers must offer full IT and other relevant support to ensure workers have everything they need to work effectively and efficiently.

A hands-off approach: Workers must be empowered and trusted to ‘get on with it’. A feeling of autonomy helps deliver good results.

Measure everything: Establish ways to measure productivity to ensure the arrangement is contributing positively to individual and corporate wellbeing.

Wholesaler viewpoints

“We are flexible when we have to be for any member of staff. As we grow, we hope to build a policy for the future based on how we deal with things instinctively now. This will involve the inclusion and support of all employees – flexibility for one of them requires the co-operation and empathy of all of them. It’s a work in progress.”

Julie Dunn, operations director, Dunns Food and Drinks

“Being a family-owned business, we fully understand the need to juggle work with family commitments, which is why we offer flexible and remote-working options, where possible. This is working well for us in marketing, sales and customer services, and has helped to inspire great loyalty and commitment from our employees.”

Terry Larkin, group general manager, JJ Food Service

“It is a mindset that definitely needs to change among both men and women as soon as possible. I am one of three siblings. Among all of us, we are able to successfully manage children, full-time careers, parents and partners. We would love to translate that into our business culture.”

Angie O’Connor, sales & marketing manager, John Mower

“The foodservice industry has evolved into a complex 24/7 operation driven by ever-increasing customer requirements, legislation, the environment, technology and changes in social behaviour.

“Offering our employees flexible working enables us to respond and stay ahead of these challenges, while meeting the needs of the business, from the point of view of operations and cost-efficiency. Communication is key in this, and we pride ourselves on ensuring our team stay up-to-date on business operations and priorities – whether they are based in an office, site, warehouse or vehicle.

“In order to meet customers’ needs now and in the future, we are also planning how to address labour requirements, looking at areas such as more flexible contracts, job sharing and how we attract millennials to start building their careers with us.

“We know that our people are our best asset and as a business, we are committed to developing them and providing attractive career paths. The future growth of our business depends heavily on recruiting skilled, talented individuals, and driving and motivating them so that they are challenged and satisfied in their roles with us.”

Julie Tidy, general manager, Bidfood


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