Staff retention and keeping experienced staff is a major issue for most retail businesses, writes Yuliana Topazly. A recent poll of over 3000 senior HR professionals carried out by Alexander Mann Solutions found that businesses are more concerned about retaining and developing staff in the next six months than they are about the potential impact of Brexit – which is why encouraging women back to work after maternity leave and being able to offer flexible working options and support services is becoming an important way to retain talent within any organisation …

Recent research carried out by PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) revealed that around 427,000 female professionals, directors, engineers, scientists, researchers, doctors, lawyers and accountants, who were on a career break, wanted to return to the workforce in the future.

Yet three in five professional women are more likely to return to lower-skilled or lower-paid roles, experiencing an immediate earnings reduction of up to a third of their former pay level.

So, how can employers encourage and support mothers back into the workplace?

Returning mothers may need different support to other employees, but they bring with them a wealth of experience, so making a few changes is a more cost-effective solution for businesses compared to recruiting new staff who need training and time to get up to speed.

Here are the six changes I suggest:

    1. Flexibility

Working parents need flexibility – for example, remote or flexible work arrangements, job-sharing, staggered hours, etc. Many returning women often have to combine work with ongoing caring commitments, which can only be achieved if they are offered flexible working arrangements. 

However, according to a PwC report, the opportunities are constrained by the lack of flexible or part-time roles available for higher-skilled jobs. A 2015 survey by Timewise shows that only 6% of advertised roles with a salary of over £20,000 are available on a flexible basis. For jobs with a salary of over £100,000, the figure is even lower – just 2%.

In a retail environment, remote working often isn’t an option – but staggered hours, job sharing and part-time roles are all possible. Giving good staff a way to come back to work, and be able to balance that with their new family commitments, is a win-win.

    2. Communication

Be considerate when sending communication, and use headers reflecting their level of urgency – for instance, 'Not urgent’, ‘For Monday’, ‘FYI Only’, or ‘Urgent!’. This simple technique can help working parents (and all employees) get through what needs to be done and prioritise their workload accordingly.

If admin and paperwork can be done at home, then allow for a couple of hours of home working. Don’t stick rigidly to ‘it must be done during opening hours’.

    3. Staff management

Employees need to be managed well, offered the right working conditions and to see that their employer is committed to improving the work/life balance of their workforce.  

Companies should adopt new approaches and offer advice and support to their working parents. There is lots of help available.

98% of working parents say they've experienced burnout. And 63% of parents who are managers are worried about the impact their working hours have on relationships with their children.   

Some of the larger retailers think that providing more leave is the key to retaining the talent, especially for working parents, but to retain talent today, employers are going to have to do more than just offer a few extra days off.

    4. Support schemes

Introduce a buddy scheme in the workplace offering support for parents by parents. Foster peer-to-peer learning. When working parents need advice or motivation, they turn to the real experts – their colleagues, working parents, people they trust. If your company does not already have a buddy scheme, consider setting one up. Peer-to-peer support interventions provide a support network, and the opportunity to access knowledge and resources.

    5. Mindfulness

Set up regular sessions on mindfulness and encourage working parents to develop ways to stay calm and avoid feeling overwhelmed, especially when parenthood gets really hard. It is something parents can practice a few minutes each day at home, at work or during their commute - and it will make a huge difference.

There are several benefits to mindfulness – Laura Callisen from Working Mothers says becoming more mindful improves your ability to concentrate, and also helps you to approach things with more acceptance and objectivity, which will help to decrease stress levels.

Employers can facilitate training sessions to help employees use this technique and can offer a relaxing environment for employees to practice this technique for 20 minutes each day. Allowing your staff 20 minutes off the shop floor to relax and meditate can boost productivity and enthusiasm by far more than the 20 minutes they were not available to customers. 

    6. Good Employer Charter

In the modern world of work, organisations can also demonstrate the support they offer to their employees by applying to be part of the Good Employer Charter (now available in most boroughs).

A big part of this is about diversity, inequality and offering flexible work arrangements. Recently, the Mayor of London called on all employers to sign up to his Healthy Workplace Charter, which provides businesses with a range of tools to support staff health and wellbeing.

Finally, be sure to advertise the resources already in place. Very often, employees don’t know what exists, or how to access resources available to them. Contact staff individually, run through what is on offer during a weekly team meeting, and post notices on the canteen or staff room wall. However you do it, just be sure they know what is on offer to them.

By helping parents return to work you can both attract and retain experienced, talented staff, which will have a direct impact on your bottom line.

Yuliana Topazly is the founder of, a supportive community of parents and experts who help each other, offer advice, and share experiences.