The zero hours contract debate. What do you think?

24th July 2016

In June Business secretary Vince Cable announced a ‘crackdown’ on exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts. He said that some ‘unscrupulous’ employers were abusing the flexibility offered by the system, to the detriment of their employees.

There was a flurry of activity in the media as reporters scuttled off to find the worst sort of examples of the worst sort of employer behavior.  It makes great copy but, having worked both directly and indirectly in retail for nearly 20 years, I’ve had a lot of experience with zero hours contracts.  I can safely say that I’ve never come across situations where people are promised hours only to have them snatched away at the last minute.

I’m not saying it doesn’t ever happen although media reports suggest that it is not the retail sector  where the majority of misuse is happening. In reality I’ve found that zero hours contracts, when properly used, can be a powerful tool, which can be positive from both the employees and the employer’s point of view.  This is especially true for employees who appreciate greater flexibility, such as students, those with caring responsibilities and parents of young children. They can also be the preferred option for semi retired people who are want to do some hours but don’t want to commit to regular shifts..

As with any tool, understanding when and how best to use it is critical to success with it.  As a Work Force Management and retail productivity expert,  Zero hours contracts are something i often get asked about. As part of a wider suite of different types of contract they can be brilliant for the flexibility they give workers and employers However, to use them well make sure:

1 .You understand your workload fully – you know what work there is to be done and when it needs to be done. Ideally you should undertake a time and motion type study to ground this knowledge in data

2.  You understand how you need to allocate that work out to match customer demand– know whattypes of contract are available to you and how having a spread of different types of contract can help to best fulfil the workload and delight your customers

3.  You have the right rota system in place – whether that’s a fully-fledged HR system or simple mobile application, you have to have something in place that enables flexible shifts to be accepted and confirmed. This creates an environment of clarity and agreement

4. Make sure your communication routes work well for any flexible workers you have, who may miss information passed across at regular team huddles. The key to having a happy flexible team is to ensure everyone feels a valued part of the team

Ultimately it’s not about having one type of contract rather than another.Being fully flexible is wrong, you need to have a core of stability in pretty much any business. Equally being fully static tends to be wrong too. Figuring out the right balance depends very much on your individual business proposition.

Getting that balance right and having the right mechanisms in place to ensure that there is good interaction between you and your employees as regards hours and shifts is absolutely critical to a happy, healthy and well-functioning operation.

Working with companies to help them achieve just that is something we’ve been doing for a long time and, as you can probably tell, the subject of zero-hours is something I feel passionate about.

I’d be interested in your thoughts, feedback and experience too, or any questions you might have, so if you want to drop me a line ( I’d love to hear from you