John Timpson: Gift vouchers serve a purpose and can help bring in new customers

John Timpson: Gift vouchers serve a purpose and can help bring in new customers

I wonder why a succession of retail company administrators have been so naive.

By banning the redemption of gift vouchers they immediately get a bad press. How much better it would be to announce that (despite the small print) vouchers are welcome, thus attracting more interest in their closing down sale.

Administrators are accountants in a hurry who seldom show signs of entrepreneurship.

By the time we bought most of the Max Spielmann shops from administration, four years ago, they had closed the warehouse and made 65pc of the employees redundant (most shops were left with only one member of staff, including some that traded on two floors).

The maintenance team was laid off so if a machine broke down it stayed broken and a notice of doom was posted on every shop door tell the world the business had gone bust. Small wonder that within three weeks sales slumped to half last year’s level.

If administrators took a deep breath and a bit more time they could do a much more commercial job for the creditors. By cutting every cost as quickly as possible they may find that before they can sell the company as a going concern, it has gone for ever.

Q I’ve got a lot of quite young staff, many of whom are keen on the idea of “working from home”. I’ve always resisted it but my business partner thinks I should be more flexible.

My suspicion is that not much work gets done when people are out of the office – that there are far too many distractions and temptations at home for workers to really knuckle down. Obviously, your shop staff can’t serve customers from home, but do you allow office workers to “work flexibly”?

A It is a pity that most of the recent interest has centred on the employees’ new “Right to Request Flexible Working” with lawyers working out how HR departments can create a process that follows the law without making much difference to the way employees actually work.

Not enough people are saying that flexible working is a fantastic way to run a business. Research has shown that the classic nine to five working day is inefficient.

The human body operates in activity cycles that last about 90 minutes to two hours, from bright eyed and ready for anything first thing in the morning to downbeat and downright uninterested by lunchtime. While the rest of the world has a siesta an Englishman is still behind his desk staring into the middle distance.

I can tell from your question that your mind is a long way away from embracing the world of flexible working. It all depends on trust. If you are suspicious, unless you can see your team at work in the office, flexible working simply isn’t for you.

Consequently you may well miss out on employing some potential superstars.

People work best if they are trusted to be themselves. The security that comes from having the freedom to fit work alongside the rest of your life reduces stress and increases commitment to the organisation.

By working at a time and place that suits them, most of your colleagues will do a better job and feel a lot better about doing it.

Clocking in, attending every meeting and following a proper process is not particularly important. What matters is getting the right result.

That does not mean that every colleague should have the right to work wherever and whenever they please. Flexible working should start with a conversation with both employer and employee seeking ways to help each other.

As you rightly observe, the scope for flexible working in our shops is somewhat limited. Each branch needs staff in attendance whenever it is trading. But many shops, particularly those open seven days a week, operate a staff rota which is organised by the colleagues themselves to suit their circumstances.

It is different in our office where flexible working plays an important part. In our finance department, for example, some mostly work from home, others come early and leave early while a small group work well into the evening.

We have mums and dads who arrange the week so they can drop off or pick up their children from school and one keen table tennis player takes an extra 30 minutes every lunchtime.

Although it is particularly helpful to women, flexible working is for everyone, but as with every other part of employment one golden rule applies – make sure you pick the right personalities in the first place.

Flexible working will be a disaster with Mr Skive, Mrs Lazy and Miss Dishonest.

During the next few years some of the brightest and best people will work in a flexible way.

If you think that they are second class citizens when it comes to promotion, you will miss some of the best potential candidates for senior management and the board room.

It is this sort of stigma that could stand in the way of our future leaders, especially women.

It is time for you to think again and discover that a flexible workplace brings a better workforce, a happier team and makes more money.

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