Good Work for All: Improving functional flexibility to increase productivity at Hobbs

When looking to reduce levels of staff turnover and its subsequent impacts, women's clothes retailer Hobbs identified underemployment and pay as key issues. As a result the company introduced a range of measures to tackle underemployment, reduce staff turnover and improve customer service, productivity and operational efficiency.

Between 2015 and 2016 the Living Wage Foundation worked with the women’s clothes retailer Hobbs to develop a tailored strategy to raise staff pay and performance.
 
The process
The Living Wage Foundation interviewed staff at head office and in selected stores to identify the specific context at Hobbs and the scope for improvements. Underemployment emerged as a key issue alongside pay, with many sales staff leaving to find full time work. Data also showed that the shorter the contract, the higher the likelihood staff would leave. As a result, staff turnover was driving high spending on recruitment, uniform and inductions. As well as these direct costs, the interviews revealed other knock-on impacts including understaffing while filling vacancies, the loss of skills and knowledge when staff leave, and lower productivity while new employees get up to standard, all of which were affecting the consistency of customer service across stores.

Store managers felt that scheduling staff around consumer traffic made it hard to build in time for training and development, which in turn limited their ability to deploy staff flexibly in an unexpected quiet period or increase in back-office workload.
 
The Living Wage Foundation brought together key parties for a workshop to discuss these findings and design a set of pilots to test a different approach. Across nine stores, Hobbs decided to trial a combination of increased contracted hours to tackle underemployment and reduce staff turnover, and weekly paid training hours to improve customer service, productivity and operational efficiency.
 
The benefits
The work is still in the early phases, but in the longer term Hobbs hopes that the changes will enable staff to take on more responsibility and work more flexibly across back office and customer-facing tasks, leading to flatter team structures that support higher rates of pay.
 
This case study has been produced by The Living Wage Foundation.
 
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