The benefits of cooperation
The John Lewis Partnership has won a lot of attention for its cooperative style of working. Most recently it scooped Workingmums.co.uk's Top Employers Award for Employee Engagement, in recognition of how its work with all staff, but particularly parents, increases their motivation and sense of commitment to the company.
The judges praised John Lewis, which includes supermarket giant Waitrose, for its very comprehensive approach to continuous employee engagement. In particular, they were impressed by how employee engagement fed into initiatives such as the summer camps, which made parents’ lives easier and improved their work/life balance.
In its submission, John Lewis said that, as a co-owned business, the happiness of its employees or Partners, as it calls them, was a core business aim. Tracey Killen, the John Lewis Partnership's Personnel Director, says: “Our teams are as diverse as the products we sell and in order to build a successful business we are looking to recruit individuals from a wide range of backgrounds. This means whether you are in or leaving education, returning to work or looking for a change of direction, we could have the opportunity you are looking for.”
All Partners can take an active role in influencing the way the business is run. Partner representatives are elected and sit on a variety of committees from pay and benefits to charitable giving. The company welcomes feedback at every level and runs an annual Partner survey, including questions on work life balance.
Reflecting Partners' need for work life balance, it promotes flexible working through its in-house Gazette and excludes all personal information, such as age, sex and ethnicity from the online recruitment process, instead focusing on accomplishments rather than circumstances. Partner development through the Horizon programme is seen as a core plank of the company's business strategy, allowing Partners to learn at their own pace and through a variety of mediums.
Carole Donaldson, Manager Resourcing for John Lewis says the company believes in treating Partners as individuals. “There is no one approach that will suit all,” she says, “so it is around them working with their line manager to work through how we can support them to ensure that when they come to work they can really focus on helping us take the business forward.”
She says all Partners can submit flexible working requests and the company encourages them to work with their line managers “to ensure their work pattern will support both the Partners and the business”.
She lists a huge range of different types of flexible working offered by the company:
“We have department managers who have returned from maternity leave and want part-time hours so they share a role which gives them flexibility around their hours and cover for when they are away.
“Some Partners do condensed weeks where they work four long days instead of traditional five.
“We have part-time Partners who have changed the days they work as their childcare needs have changed or who move from full time to part time.
“People have changed roles, for instance, moving from sales positions to working in the supply chain as they like the option of early starts.
“Some Partners work term time only so they are off over holidays. Some usually work three days a week and this is reduced to one day a week during school holidays.
“Partners have moved from John Lewis to Waitrose as there is a branch nearer there home so they reduce their commuting time.
“Some work one day from home so they are free to pick up from school.
“We also match rotas so couples who work for us can be off at the same time or work complementary hours if this works better.
“Some Partners have core contracted hours, some of which are set but can be flexible around their other hours if this is agreed by their manager. This works well in admin roles and means they can attend school events, such as sports afternoons, without using holiday.
“We also offer time banking so Partners can work additional hours when able and then take these back when needed. There are lots of variations!”
Donaldson adds that other benefits for families include nursery vouchers through salary sacrifice, subsidised learning for all the family and a wide range of specially negotiated offers from Legoland to holiday cottages. There are also fun days, from taking over a theme park to Christmas parties which, she says, provide opportunities for families to enjoy being part of John Lewis.
John Lewis also offers summer camps which are run by an external company with which they have negotiated a special price for Partners. Donaldson says: “This allows them to give their children the opportunity to take part in an exciting array of activities, meet new friends and have fun. It can also help Partners manage the long summer holidays.”
She adds: “We also have a number of hotels which are owned and run by the Partnership. These are subsidised and provide affordable holidays for Partners and their children, from staying in a castle on the south coast to enjoying boating activities on the Thames.”
Holiday Centres are available to all Partners. “The aim,” says Donaldson, “is to ensure all Partners can afford a holiday with their families, to ensure they enjoy their leisure time as it is recognised that where individuals have access to wide range of leisure opportunities and can develop outside of work they will come back in to work refreshed and relaxed.”