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Staff benefits bring their own rewards

The increase in the rate of the minimum wage in October has had a huge impact on my business. No one is actually paid that amount, but we’ve had to react to it to maintain our differential.

Retail has never enjoyed the reputation of being a highly paid occupation (even for shop owners) and the need to attract and recruit is particularly hard when people apply who have been working in the public sector. We give the spin that it is the whole package and environment that counts, but that seems to cut little ice with many applicants.

Therefore we have spent the past few weeks revising our whole benefits offer, ranging from discounts, account options, holiday, length-of-service awards and base rate of pay.

This has been a fascinating exercise as we weigh up what will cost us least while still meaning the most to our staff. Work-life balance and flexible working are sexy phrases, but we still want staff on the shop floor when we most need them, while trying to satisfy them by giving them what they desire. A happy workforce is directly reflected in their sales. With sales so hard to achieve we need reliability and great sales assistants; loyal, long-serving and true.

In times of tough trading, it is easy to think you cannot afford to reward your staff. But I believe you have to weigh up the consequence of them leaving and the impact that would have, against offering them reasons to work harder.

Remember the old adage of how many people work for you? About half of them. This simply cannot be held true. Every staff member must spend 2008 believing in what we are doing.

Hilary Cookson is the owner of womenswear store Maureen Cookson in Whalley, Lancashire

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