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B&Q's new break policy: culture, consultation, and the challenges of change

DIY retailer B&Q has generated headlines across the trade and national press recently after confirming it was increasing hourly rates but reducing its workers’ contractual hours and removing their paid breaks.

Although on the surface, the proposal to reduce contractual hours while simultaneously increasing pay, seems like a fair one, it has generated concerns amongst its employees in a few areas.

In terms of pay, the new hourly pay rate of £11.31 will start in January 2024 to coincide with the reduction in hours. However, with the new national living wage (NLW) in April due to reach £11.44, some workers have shown concern that the changes may limit their earning potential come April. They argue that maintaining their existing hours and paid breaks could have made them better off when the NLW comes into effect.

Feeling powerless 

The alleged or perceived lack of consultation is the issue that interests me most in this case though. Indeed, some of the feedback included in the Retail Week article highlights the impact this can have on morale. 

One B&Q worker, for example, said they felt “powerless”, whilst another said they were surprised “that a policy with such a large impact on the pay and terms and conditions of staff has appeared without any warning.”

In response to these media reports, B&Q has stated that no colleague will be worse off, adding it has invested £4 million in the policy. Despite this significant investment, it can be argued that vague details about the extent of the next pay review in April continues to increase the level of mistrust amongst employees. 

As the NLW continues to rise, many retailers will need to consider how to minimise the impact and remain profitable while attracting and retaining staff. Reducing contracted hours can be an effective cost-cutting method, but as we have seen here, it must be introduced correctly. This means through effective consultation and clear explanations about changes to employment terms. B&Q's case serves as a reminder of the importance of these factors in managing change effectively.

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