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IKEA employees get the weekend back – sometimes

One man’s meat is another man’s poison, and this is certainly the case with retail workers.

For every 20 office-based employees who love the freedom of shopping in the evening or on a Sunday, there is a retail employee slogging their way through unsocial hours and weekend working; however, IKEA has recently decided to help its UK employees with their work-life balance.

IKEA’s ‘co-workers’ – all 10,400 of them – are now allowed one in four weekends off. This might not appear to be a big deal, but at least it is something. Bearing in mind the age of most retail staff, we are looking at a long-awaited opportunity to party all night on Saturday and sleep it off on Sunday.

Not that some retail workers don’t do this already – have you ever observed the staff in your local supermarket on a Sunday morning? A good percentage of them have not been to bed; instead, they are waiting for the shop to shut at 4pm to catch up on their sleep.

IKEA’s UK & Ireland HR manager gave a statement that started with the normal corporate-speak: “As a values-driven organisation”. Why do large companies have this urge to convince us that their corporate culture is a mix of the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa?

Are they worried we won’t buy sofa beds if we think they are a furniture-driven organisation? Most of us don’t look to IKEA for spiritual guidance – perhaps someone should tell them?

The statement went on to say that IKEA is committed to making a positive contribution to its employees’ lives; however, a cynical observer might say that paying them is probably the most positive contribution as far as the employees are concerned.

IKEA conducted a survey last year and its employees said that work-life balance was a priority; subsequently, IKEA got to work and introduced this new benefit. One weekend in four off is great until you read the final part of the statement: “We want everyone who works for us to spend quality time with their loved ones at the weekend.” Family time is a whole different thing to work-life balance.

For 20-somethings in retail, the whole point of weekends is to get out and not see any family until the 20-minute space allocated to them on Sunday night. As a sofa seller, IKEA obviously wants everyone sitting down, watching a TV placed on one of their self-assembled cabinets and wearing out the sofa so that they need to get a new one.

Their employees, in contrast, are no doubt so sick of sofas that they will scream if they see another one and are heading out to enjoy themselves anywhere that has no soft furnishings.

IKEA has its heart in the right place. It pays the living wage and gives its staff a bonus; however, in another fit of paternalism – and unlike John Lewis – it pays the bonus into the employee’s pension pot.

This could be because it is more clued up than it seems about what its employees might do with a free weekend and a wad of cash in their pocket, which has little to do with quality time with their family.

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