Earlier this month, results from the Workplace Employment Relations Study highlighted a dramatic rise in zero-hours contracts for UK workers. The contracts, which have been popularised in the part-time and student workforce, have grown 11% since 2004 with a growing number of large charities and public sector organisations opting for the structure, arguing that they provide flexibility for those juggling family commitments. Can a scheme of work fundamentally lacking in stability really benefit employees, regardless of personal circumstance?

Zero-hours contracts by definition do not guarantee an employee a fixed number of working hours per week. For smaller companies whose quiet periods can often extend over a number of weeks, workers can be faced with nearly a month without income. The retail sector is a primary purveyor of this ad-hoc structure, even big-name brands like Abercrombie and Fitch and Hollister hire large swathes of employees under un-fixed contracts, suitable for the undergraduate hoping to earn a little spending money but it is having a crippling effect on those dependent on the wage.

At Maverick, we commissioned an independent survey into worker engagement levels across all sectors in the UK. Of those questioned, retail employees were some of the most disconnected in the country with 77 per cent admitting to not engaging with their company’s brand values. Employees of any kind, at any level, should be actively ‘selling’ their companies and its associated values to people in every conversation they have; with investors, customers, suppliers and even when talking about their jobs with friends. Our research found that not only were the majority of UK workers unlikely to do this, many didn’t even know what the values were in the first place.

The findings mirror the issues under close scrutiny by the wider UK business community, following the launch of the Engage for Success taskforce. In their research, the initiative revealed that, by investing just ten percent more in staff engagement, UK businesses in all sectors could add £2700 per employee per year in profits.  This could result in a staggering £49 billion growth across UK plc, equivalent 3 per cent of the country’s current GDP.

Add to that the fact that a quarter of employees working for companies who regularly advertise weren’t aware of their firms’ promotional messages, or what they were expected to do to support marketing campaigns at the point of sale, and it’s not difficult to see why the Budget’s failure to freeze the sharp rise on business rates has brought little comfort to UK retailers.

We cannot continue to rely on the ubiquitous ‘new starter training days’ to make engagement happen. It’s a long journey that in most cases starts at the top of the organisation and slowly filters down throughout the business. It’s worth remembering that, beyond brand values and visions, what employees seek is an environment of stimulation, recognition and support. Organisations that understand these fundamentals are the most likely to enjoy repeated and sustained success.

Director of Engagement, Maverick

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