B&Q, Ireland: Comprehensive approach
B&Q Ireland Ltd. has a long-standing diversity management programme that specifically targets older people. B&Q has stores in the UK and Ireland and the B&Q HR policy is the same in all stores.
B&Q is a private commercial organisation with limited liability. It is the largest DIY and garden centre retailer in the UK, and, with the Castorama group, the largest in Europe. B&Q is a subsidiary of Kingfisher Plc. B&Q has 336 stores in the UK and seven in the Republic of Ireland. Three stores are in Dublin with the others located in Athlone, Cork, Naas and Limerick. An eighth store is planned for opening in Galway in the autumn of 2007. The Irish business employs about 750 people. Over 24% of B&Q’s total workforce is over 50 years of age. The youngest employee is 16 and the oldest is 92. In the Republic of Ireland, 13% of employees are aged over 50.
Description of the initiative
B&Q has developed a specific diversity strategy, which considers age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion and marital status. The diversity strategy was developed with employees, customers and partners, such as the Employers Forum on Age in the UK. The strategy covers issues related to age, cultural diversity, disability and gender and is supported in stores by Diversity Champions, who are able to raise and address diversity issues among their colleagues and customers. As part of this strategy, B&Q has a clear position of being an age diverse organisation in all its stores in Ireland. In 2006, B&Q received the 2006 Retail Award for Age Diverse Employer of the Year in the UK. B&Q does not recognise a union for collective bargaining purposes.
B&Q Ireland follows the same HR and diversity policy as B&Q UK Ltd. In the late 1980s, B&Q faced a number of challenges to its continuing development:
- the company was expanding and this growth was placing demands on recruitment;
- the age profile of the company was predominantly young;
- an analysis of the labour force revealed that staff turnover costs were highest in the 18 to 20 years of age category;
- with low unemployment in some areas, recruitment from the core labour pool became more difficult;
- customer feedback favoured older workers due to a perception of increased customer service and knowledge of DIY;
- the steepest growth in the available labour force was from the over-45 age group.
B&Q also considered other factors in favour of older workers:
- older workers constituted a commercial ‘fit’ with B&Q’s core business in that they were likely to be homeowners;
- they had considerable experience of DIY;
- they were reflective of B&Q’s customer base;
- they had a good understanding of what constitutes good customer service;
- they were reflective of the demographic shift to an ageing population evident in the UK at the time.
At the beginning of this initiative, however, a number of concerns were also raised. These centred on the ability of older workers to adapt in a fast-moving environment, especially in the areas of training, working hours, recruitment and availability, and the physical demands of the job.
In 1989, B&Q opened a store in Macclesfield, staffed entirely by people aged over 50. The company was surprised by the response to this move. There was an extremely high response rate to advertised vacancies, and extra time that had been allocated for training for older workers proved unnecessary. The University of Warwick carried out a survey of the Macclesfield store in 1991. The findings of the research showed that:
- profits were higher by 18%;
- staff turnover was six times lower;
- there was 39% less absenteeism;
- there was 58% less shrinkage;
- there was an improved perception of customer service;
- there was a general increase in the skill level of the staff.
This research highlighted the advantages of employing older workers, and in 1990 B&Q enabled employees to continue working beyond the then pension age of 60 by offering a two-year fixed term contract which could be renewed. In 1999, this policy was updated with the age restriction removed to allow individuals the opportunity to review their own working life. This also meant that older employees could qualify for B&Q’s fast-track to management programme.
Since then, key actions in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland have focused on demonstrating the business case to other organisations and developing age-neutral policies within the organisation. These policies consist of:
- removal of the retirement age as discussed above;
- removing age criteria from the recruitment process, using age positive case studies;
- opening training and development opportunities to all, regardless of age;
- the introduction of flexible working practices.
B&Q views employer-to-employee engagement and feedback as an essential element in sustaining an age-friendly work environment. The company surveyed all employees over 50 years of age and found:
- their job gave 61% a sense of purpose;
- 71% enjoyed working with younger people;
- 64% felt their experience was valued by the organisation.
In addition, the age profile of the workforce is regularly monitored, age awareness and training is conducted, and flexible retirement options are made available.
Good practice today
Flexible working practices are in place to support older workers. This means that if an employee can no longer meet the physical requirements of a job because of age or any other reason, B&Q will consider a transfer to a more customer-focused role or to a position mentoring and training of other employees.