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Shifting work to term time

Amazon has launched new term-time contracts for its fulfilment centre employees in the UK.

Reports state that parents and grandparents who work in Amazon warehouses will be able to choose to work in term-time only meaning they can take time off during school holidays at Easter, Summer and Christmas.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development states only 4% of UK workers already have term-time working. But, with the current cost of living crisis, increasing childcare costs and lack of availability this perfect storm is leading to huge challenges for working parents and carers of children and this form of flexibility is only likely to increase in demand. So, clearly these contractual arrangements should have a positive impact on attraction and retention at Amazon.

It is also rolling out a part-time pick-your-shift option to seven fulfilment centres following a successful trial, with more sites soon to follow. This new flexible part-time contract means employees would be guaranteed a minimum of 80 hours and lets employees pick and mix the shifts which suit their needs; part-day or full-day, day or night, weekday, or weekend. They say that this contract will support people who are unable to find work due to family or other commitments that require flexibility, return to work after a career break or transition into a new role.

But it’s never as simple as that!

Amazon is offering the new contracts whilst fighting a current bid by the GMB to be recognised by the company. If successful, this would make it the first such recognition in Europe. Although these flexible offerings may be desirable for both Amazon and its workers cynics are arguing their offer may be an attempt to boost numbers of non-union employees in order to prevent this happening. Amazon employs more than 70,000 people in the UK and states that it does not believe that union recognition is appropriate and that it prefers to talk directly with its employees rather than go through a union.

Flexible working should be considered alongside the work demand

As in all cases of offering flexible working, orworkers supply & demand even accepting flexible working requests there should be full comprehension of the demand profile of the area or department in question. What is the operational window, what skills are needed and how many people presences are required by hour, day, week, or year. It may be that the workforce at these sites is of sufficient size and the number of people being offered these contracts sufficiently small to have only a minor impact, or that there is much “time elastic” demand, but in many organisations this may not be the case.

Alternatively, term time working may be offset in a flatter annual profile by employing students in holiday periods. This is unlikely to be a valid option in highly skilled occupations.

All the media referring to the term time opportunities at Amazon refer to it as only for parents or grandparents, however a flexible working request from anyone for any reason would be difficult to reject as they have effectively ensured that most business reasons allowed for rejection have more or less been invalidated. These reasons can be:

  • Burden of additional costs
  • Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • Inability to reorganise work among existing staff
  • Inability to recruit additional staff
  • Detrimental impact on quality
  • Detrimental impact on performance
  • Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
  • Planned structural changes

Avoid pitfalls in your contractual arrangements

To match the requirements for organisational contract agreementdemand and people desires or needs with flexibility needed across any time period, whilst avoiding some of the recent controversy regarding holiday entitlement, term time working is best contracted using an annualised hours approach.

Properly developed annualised schemes consider simultaneously the work demand, working time requirements, necessary tasks and skill needs, as well as worker requirements. Each employee is contracted to work a set number of hours for the year. These could be any number of hours, based on normal full time commitment or lower and these hours, translated into rosters, are then allocated. On this basis, with all paid-time and skills accurately calculated to match the demand, what results is a system containing no wasteful slack. This approach fits for term-time working, session working with recess time off in parliaments, or working almost any type of reasonable demand requirements, whether fluctuating, “seasonal”, or flat.

In practice, most schemes include an unallocated provision of the employees’ available hours to be reserved for the unexpected, such as variations in demand, or mishap, as well as cover for sickness and training. Each employee's working time, leisure / holidays and reserve are defined in advance. The reserve, whether used or not, is included in the paid total of hours, providing a carrot to improve productivity and incentivise smarter working. Inevitably, weekly hours will vary in keeping with the rhythm of the business. For employees, their routines are flexible within the team structure and salaries are guaranteed and evenly spread throughout the year - a month of reduced hours doesn't mean an undersized cheque – and for the employer, the size of the pay bill is known in advance.

Supporting organisations and workers for all flexible working

Crown WFM supports annualised hours fully. Each employee has their hours deducted from the annual work contract when they attend work. The organisation is able to roster staff to ensure there are always sufficient skills to perform the work required on any day. Where there are shortfalls, individuals capable of filling the gaps will be highlighted.

Each individual’s annual contract can be viewed at any given time, showing hours used, committed and reserve. This enables the employer to ensure adequate cover, as well as provide an equitable and fair environment. Different rules can be built in to ensure any organisations or individuals idiosyncrasies are met.

For further information on the design and implementation of flexible working schemes please contact Crown.

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