As companies grapple with post-pandemic work patterns, Primark, better known in Ireland as Penneys, has found that a more flexible approach was a “game-changer”.
or Lorraine Culligan, Group Director of People and Culture at Primark, which employs 70,000 people in 14 markets, communicating with employees during and after pandemic restrictions has been key to a happy workforce.
“The last thing we needed was a workforce of people who felt like we didn’t consider how they wanted to work,” she says of returning to the office.
“We had teams of people working from home – teams buying, developing ranges for next season and sitting in their bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens.
“They pulled out all the stops for the company. So this was our chance to hear how they saw the new world and how we would work. And you know what? It was the best thing we did because it was really important for us to create a new way of working.”
The company had already responded to calls for less rigid schedules before Covid.
“Before the pandemic, we had introduced more flexible working that was ‘your day, your way’, meaning flexible start and end times and then 2pm every Friday, which was a game changer for us.”
But after home working rules were lifted, it was far from clear how Primark’s office workers would adjust to a return to the office.
“The first thing we’re asked when recruiting candidates is to talk to me about your hybrid model.
“That’s why we introduced a flexible model. Some teams have to be here five days a week, some four days and some three days. We haven’t figured it out, but we’re learning.
“Our people replied, they are back in the office. You can feel the atmosphere, you can feel the energy in the office and people’s cooperation. people live from people. But we still have a long way to go to fully figure it out.”
For a company the size of Primark, the lockdowns have been extremely difficult. With non-essential shops closed in Ireland and elsewhere, the group had to close their doors overnight as tens of thousands of people were unable to do their jobs. Additionally, Penneys/Primark does not sell clothing online, so there was no alternative way to do business.
“There wasn’t a rule book for that,” says Ms. Culligan.
“The shop was closed, we had to make tough decisions. There was no income from the business. That moment when you close all your doors and 70,000 people are sitting at home looking for answers and waiting for the response from the leadership team really, really brings you down.
“Although it was the most challenging part of my career, we actually emerged from it and with great determination for the future. But you have to hit rock bottom, roll up your sleeves and fight for your business.”
Ms Culligan says communication has never been more important.
“Sometimes we went out to communicate and had nothing to say. But people believed you because you were authentic and it came from the heart and it came from the right place.”
The company has learned a few lessons from this period.
“We have gotten better at informal communication. We launched a platform where people can communicate informally through a peer app called Zing. So when you share what the team in Milan does when they open a store and you share ideas from Boston or Dublin, you bring the human component to it, which makes it a little bit more fun.”
Staff shortages are currently a concern for employers, but Culligan believes the company’s strong brand gives him an advantage.
“I find our brand very attractive, I find our hybrid model attractive. But there are some skills in Dublin right now that we are fishing for in the same pond as many other companies. Whether finance, HR, technology.
“We pay well and take care of our people. I think people have more choices in what they can do. I see people taking a year off after the pandemic. People are willing to give up a job, which is strange for employers. The next generation wants to work differently. We have people who come here and then maybe start their own business. You’re definitely seeing more of it and cheering for them.”
Paying retail employees well is part of the business model.
“Many retailers talk about paying living wage, but they don’t pay more than living wage. We have a six-tier salary scale to help you go above living wage. It also gives people a career path.”
Health and well-being initiatives are other measures to engage with employees on the shop floor.
“And we work a lot on diversity and inclusion and what that means for someone who’s practically working in the business.”
Ms Culligan continues to focus on gender balance.
“Overall, 75 percent of our workforce are women. From a management perspective, about 45 percent of the top 250 in the company are women.
“We’re making progress on the finance team — about half and half; The technical team is more of a challenge. I would like to see more men in HR, but it’s more of a female field.
“From a retail perspective, we need to make sure we’re supporting women’s advancement and that you balance it with all the family responsibilities.
“I can’t say we nailed it, but we’re constantly working on it and we have really good examples of female leadership.”
https://www.independent.ie/business/irelands-best-employers/penneys-pays-attention-to-the-detail-in-retail-41670546.html Penneys pays attention to detail in retail