Dissertation research proposal Training of diverse employees training programmes of John Lewis

Table of Contents

Introduction. 2

Research areas. 5

Aims and objectives of the research. 5

Research questions. 6

Back ground of John Lewis. 6

Literature review.. 6

Diversity in the workforce. 7

Recruitment of foreign immigrants. 8

Training needs and requirements of diverse employees. 10

References. 10


Service delivery provided by the employees of retail organisations has only improved over the years even in spite of the development of several self-service technologies in the sector. The relevance of employees of a business organisation in the retail industry such as that of John Lewis and especially the front-line employees who are the pillars of providing customer satisfaction has only increased. But in many cases the involvement of employees indirectly serving their customers for organisations such as Tesco and Sainsbury has been considerably reduced due to the concept of self-service adopted by organisations in order to reduce the employee cost. On the contrary retail stores such as John Lewis and Harrods have differentiated approach where the focus is on providing customer satisfaction through the service mentality of the employees and mainly the front-line employees. It is on this basis that the author can conclusively state the higher relevance of front-line employees in providing a competitive advantage for these kinds of organisations. In order to provide higher customer satisfaction and service delivery it is essential for the front-line employees to be trained and developed and further motivated to enhance the value addition to the customers. According to Waight and Madera, (2011) many customers prefer the enhanced service levels and customer contacts provided by the employees of high-end retail organisations such as John Lewis along with the branding and quality levels of the products in the organisation. Further there are several research studies which suggest the contribution of highly motivated employees in delivering customer satisfaction and a unique competitive advantage for these organisations. In order to enhance the motivation and service quality the contribution of training and development of the employees cannot be neglected.

One of the factors which need to be considered in developing a training programme for the front-line employees of high-end retail organisations is the diversity of the employees. In the recent decades the cultural, social, gender-based, age-based and racial diversity in retail organisations has increased mainly due to the higher levels of immigration from Asia and Africa and also the enhanced levels of formal education gained by that section of the population which were considered as lagging behind. Several research studies and data are available from government statistics suggest that the involvement of female and minorities among the population gaining employment in retail organisations have increased. This is coupled with the higher levels of immigration from those countries which have social and cultural differences with that of the United Kingdom. On this basis it can be said that the diversity of the employee base of the United Kingdom has increased and it is necessary for the organisations to consider the differences in the employee base from the perspective of culture, social attitudes and behaviour, gender, age and race. Although some studies have indicated that gender-based differences are reducing, the cultural and social differences among the employee base are considered to be increasing. The cultural and social differences of the immigrant and foreign-born workers from that of the local born employees are due to the background and the attitudes, perceptions and behaviour (Lai and Kleiner, 2001).  It has also been suggested by Wildermuth and Wildermuth, (2011) that many of the immigrant and foreign-born population actually find employment in the front-line services of retail organisations which are considered as low-paid and has a lower social status. From the perspective of the organisations the research conducted by McGuire and Bagher, (2010) have suggested that easy to recruit from the foreign and immigrant category for the front-line positions mainly due to the availability and retention factors. Due to the high levels of immigration many business organisations were able to recruit employees to the front-line positions which are low-paid and according to Schmidt, (2004) the retention of these low skilled foreign-born and immigrant employees is higher than the natural employee base which was the United Kingdom born employees. But with a higher level of employees with a difference in social and cultural backgrounds along with the United Kingdom born employees have created higher levels of diversity which has its own problems. According to Yap, Holmes, Hannan and Cukier, (2010) heterogeneity in the workforce contributes to conflicts when the employees are to work in teams, mainly because of the difference in cultural and social outlook. But there is also research evidence to suggest that heterogeneity contribute to different set of ideas and innovation in the workplace (Badhesha, Schmidtke, Cummings and Moore, 2008). Even though there is some level of contribution from the social and cultural differences among the employees, there is a need to manage the diversity among the employees in a constructive manner so that any potential conflicts can be reduced.

Moreover because of the social and cultural differences, not all employees share similar beliefs when coming to the concept of service delivery to the largely homogenous customers for the high-end retail store such as John Lewis and Harrods. According to a research study by Blakemore, Barlow and Padgett, (1995) even though the diversity among the population in the United Kingdom has increased, the customer base of the high-end retail stores is relatively unchanged with the homogeneity being preserved. Due to the higher prices of products and the nature of the products along with the targeting of the high-end customers in the market, these organisations have managed to concentrate on a homogenous customer base.

The employees who are serving this high-end customer market have become diverse and may not be able to share the social and cultural beliefs of the customers they are serving. According to Bennett, (2006) there is some level of correlation between the service quality and the homogeneity of the customers and the employees who are serving them, arising from the commonality of social and cultural attitudes and perceptions. An employee who is not able to understand the beliefs of, attitudes and behaviours of the customers will not be able to provide them with the same level of service as that of another employee which shares the same attitudes. Hence it is necessary that the employees who have different social and cultural perceptions and attitudes need to be trained to the social and cultural behaviours of the customers.

In the previous paragraph, the author has mentioned the availability of the foreign-born and immigrant employees in the front-line positions of retail organisations based on the low skill levels and lack of formal education, the research and research evidence to suggest that in the recent years the immigrants and foreign workers who come to the United Kingdom has comparatively higher levels of education and consider their employment in low paid work as a stopgap arrangement before they find a suitable job befitting their education and experience. According to Cassell, (2000) the foreign-born immigrant worker category though not have the social stigma associated with low paid employment, the motivation for them to enhance their career prospects and increase the wages is higher than that of the low paid local born citizens of the United Kingdom. One significant research study conducted by Mann, (2010) has evaluated the motivation level of the immigrant population to rise and take up a risk in their career is higher than that of the local population. Hence there is an element of increased defection of the immigrant employees who are filling up the front-line positions of retail organisations. Most of the immigrant workers, who initially take up front-line employment as low-paid workers, are almost always motivated by the financial incentives rather than intangible and long-term benefits of working in an organisation. According to Lindsay, (1994) enhanced career prospects in the future always immigrant category in the United Kingdom is becoming reduced because of the nature of immigration laws and the better career prospects for them back in their home countries. Most of the immigrant workers come to the United Kingdom for a shorter period of stay and do not have a loyalty to an employer relative to a local pond employee (Moore, 1999). Hence it is also necessary to motivate employees and enhanced the retention factor of the diverse employee base by installing training and development programmes which are specifically catering to the needs and requirements of the employees who have different social and cultural attitudes, perceptions and behaviour.

It is on this above mentioned aspects that the present research studies conducted by the author on the employees of John Lewis store in London. The specific problem areas are given in the next section.

Research areas

The concept of diversity in the workforce has been a relatively new topic but has received a good level of attention from various researchers. Several models and concepts relating to training and development of diverse employees have been developed and put into practice. The immigration and employment laws of the United Kingdom is considered to be much more relaxed than in other countries, but which is increasingly getting tight. Due to a change in the immigration laws, it is expected that the quality of the immigrants in terms of their skill and formal education will increase in the coming years, it is not expected that the diversity of the front-line workers of the retail organisations such as John Lewis is going to change significantly. Hence they really need to develop training, motivation and development programmes for the diverse employees in line with business philosophy adopted in the organisation. The above mentioned areas where diversity could affect group working, customer satisfaction and retention needs to be targeted in the training and development programme. The organisation should also concentrate on catering to the needs and requirements of individual employees due to the social and cultural differences. Although the previous section of the research mainly concentrated on diversity arising from higher levels of immigration from the different countries which have a completely different set of social and cultural pattern, there is also diversity arising from gender differences and the inclusion of racial minorities in the workforce. Hence the concept of diversity will be not only evaluated from the difference in social and cultural perceptions but also based on gender, racial differences and even on age differences.

Based on these areas of research the following came and objectives are developed for the present research study.

Aims and objectives of the research

The aim of the research is to critically evaluate the recruitment, training and development of the front-line employees of upscale retail organisation. The research will adopt a case study method based on the employee base of John Lewis store in London.

The objectives of the research are

  1. To evaluate the various aspects of diversity of front-line employees in retail organisations
  2. To analyse the needs and requirements of diverse front-line employees in serving the customer’s
  3. To evaluate the training and development needs and requirements of the diverse front-line employees

Research questions

From the introduction it is mainly found that there are differences in cultural and social attitudes between individuals and there is a need for a diverse approach towards recruitment, training and development. On this basis the proposed research is planning to address the following research question

  1. Is there a high level of social and cultural differences between immigrant employees and local born employees and does it affect the front-line employee behaviour in service based retail organisations
  2. What are the specific needs and requirements of foreign-born and immigrant front-line employees in terms of training and development to provide adequate service to the customers

Back ground of John Lewis

John Lewis is a chain of upmarket department stores operating throughout the United Kingdom and which started in the year of 1864 in the shopping district of Oxford Street. The organisation operates under the John Lewis partnership which has 35 stores throughout United Kingdom and the Oxford Street branch is still the flagship of the company which had been republished in 2007 at a cost of £60 million pounds. The refurbishment focused on creating a change in the business model from that of a simple retail store to the introduction of added hospitality in the form of restaurants and cafes. John Lewis has announced the opening of new stores in different parts of the country as well as in overseas locations. John also developed human resources policy where the employees of the organisation are considered as partners is with added benefits in terms of pay and bonuses. John Lewis has also developed training and development facilities for the employees to ensure high level of customer service with a programme of developing soft skills and technical training. The organisation also encourages the employees to take new challenges and developing a career in managerial roles. A policy of promotion and internal recruitment for senior level positions and the training and development of the front-line employees to supervisory and managerial cadre is the highlight of the human resources policy of John Lewis.

Literature review

 Concepts relating and leading to diversity of the work force mainly in the front-line positions of organisations has been mentioned in the introduction stage. The literature review mainly concentrates on evaluating the diversity, the needs and requirements of the diverse employee base from the perspective of service delivery as well as the training and development. In the first part of the literature review some of the concepts relating to diversity of the employees in an organisation, mainly the benefits in terms of recruitment, the advantages and disadvantages of a diverse set of employees will be done. In the later stages the focus will shift to the training and development needs of the front-line employees

Diversity in the workforce

The term diversity describes differences in racial or ethnic classification, aged, gender, religion, philosophy, physical abilities, social or economic background, sexual orientation, gender identity, intelligence, mental health, physical health, genetic attitudes, behaviour, attractiveness or other identifying features. Mastering diversity means understanding the differences that exist and also developing knowledge about the various circumstances faced by customers, employees and suppliers from a business point of view. This is a vital knowledge for managers of an organisation either in managing the customers or the employees. According to Johnson and Kravitz, (2008) a more diverse workplace promotes personal development and higher levels of job satisfaction but this is contradicted by several researchers suggest Stewart and Harte, (2010) who argue that there is more conflicts arising due to diversity essentially from the difference of cultural and social attitudes. Several research studies were conducted about the effectiveness of diversity programs in organisations in improving the quality of and job satisfaction and one of the prominent studies done by King, (1994) suggest that multicultural organisations are more flexible in managing the increasing diversity of the customers. An organisation will be able to devote employees who have similar social and cultural knowledge about the customers and this will help in developing the needs and requirements of the customers. But according to Kapoor and Solomon, (2011) the diversity in numbers alone (surface diversity) will not contribute to workplace harmony. Valuing employee diversity is a behaviour expected of today’s managers especially in the developed countries where there is increasing relevance for employing a diverse range of workforce in order to cater to the increasingly diversified and customers. But from an outward perspective and organisation is only able to reap the advantages of diversity when the customer base is also changing in relation to the employee diversity (Foulkes, 1995). Taking an example the diversity of the population in the United Kingdom has seen significant changes in the last several decades due to higher levels of immigration. But for an organisation such as John Lewis who has traditionally targeted the high class customer market, there could be little change in the diversity of the customers as most of the inward immigration is at the lower end of the economic scale.

Recruitment of foreign immigrants

One important factor to note here is that it is from this lower end of the economic scale that these organisations are able to recruit the front-line workers and hence it should be said that in relation to the customers, the employee diversity is increasing at a rapid pace. It will not be proper for an organisation to recruit employees from a specific category in order to serve the needs of the customers as this will be contradicting against the current employment regulations in the United Kingdom. According to Appelbaum and Fewster, (2004) various national governments are promoting diversity of the work force in order to provide equal chances for the minority groups and also to reduce the social unrest and increasing levels of disparity between the ethnic groups. Another research study conducted by Waight and Madera, (2011) have suggested that organisations are forced to recruit from the immigrant and foreign worker categories mainly because of the easier availability and the readiness of this category of workforce to undertake low paid and socially stigmatising jobs. The relevance of availability and readiness of immigrant and foreign workers has increased over the years due to the high levels of immigration of low skilled labour from the Eastern European and Southeast Asian Nations. According to a study conducted by Lai and Kleiner, (2001) on the foreign workforce of United Kingdom have concluded that a major percentage of the workforce is of low skilled category and do not have any kind of social barriers in taking up employment in low pay jobs. But there is also contrasting research evidence to suggest that at least a segment of the immigrant population even with high levels of skills and formal education are not averse to taking up employment in low paid jobs even though only as a temporary arrangement. One of the considerations for the immigrant population in taking up any job according to Wildermuth and Wildermuth, (2011) is the insecurity and financial resources available to them in relation to the local noncitizens that get unemployment benefits from the government. But the same research study has also evaluated that motivation to succeed in life and to rise up the career is much stronger than that of the local population. A significant research study particularly in the case of the United Kingdom conducted by Schmidt, (2004) and evaluated that the motivation of the local population who are eligible for various kinds of benefits to take up employment is less, mainly because they are able to sustain their life without gainful employment. But in the case of the foreign immigrant population there is no such incentives and the primary motivation according to McGuire and Bagher, (2010) in coming to the developed country such as the United Kingdom is to gain employment. In the recent years particular stress is provided by policy makers in amending the Social Security benefits which are now being considered as an incentive for the local population not to take employment. Consequently the organisations are forced to recruit from the foreign immigrants in their front-line jobs even though there are social and cultural differences which could promote conflicts within the workplace and also the potential problems arising from the lack of understanding of the customer social and cultural attitudes.

From the points mentioned in the introduction and in the above section of the literature review it is evident that organisations cannot shy away from the fact that they have the recruit employees who have different social and cultural attitudes and beliefs. The relevance of conflicts arising in the workforce due to increased levels of heterogeneity has been studied by Bennett, (2006) through quantitative empirical measurements which concluded that heterogeneity can give rise to increased levels of customer satisfaction when the organisation manages the diversity in a creative manner, or in other words when an organisation is able to manage the diverse nature of the employee to cater to the needs and requirements of the diverse nature of the customers. But the research by Moore, (1999) have evaluated the diversity in front-line employees and who are also needed to work in teams, concluding that there is some level of conflicts arising from the differences in social and cultural perceptions.

Equity theory which defines that employees work toward a balance of what they input of invest in their work (in the form of skill, attention and effort) and what they receive as a reward from their work (the attitude, appreciation and pay) as compared to the input/output ratio of others in similar positions (Lindsay, 1994). The equity theory has been utilised by Cassell, (2000) in analysing the diversity of the workforce and comparing the perceptions of the employees with respect to the training they receive, the effort they have to put into the work and the benefits received. Based on this research, the analysis was employees from different cultural backgrounds evaluate the training programs differently mainly because some of the methods are not suitable and does not correctly evaluate the needs and requirements of the employees. Accordingly an employee who has considerable relevant experience in the field and another employee who has formal education have different sets of training needs and requirements. One of the consequences of the diversity among the workforce in the front-line positions is the varying capacities of the workforce and the skill levels. According to Kapoor and Solomon, (2011) many employees who are immigrants but working in the front-line positions are sometimes highly qualified, have years of experience in supervisory or even managerial positions but is not considered by the employer because they are not relevant or accepted in a third country. There is also the misrepresentation of the facts relating to a jobseekers previous employment and formal education which are not revealed by the potential employees for the fear of losing their job.

Training needs and requirements of diverse employees

Almost all type of training needs and requirements concentrate on the specific attributes of the job, the level of formal education attained by the employee and the previous levels of experience. According to Foulkes, (1995) there is no particular relevance given to social and cultural factors of an employee when considering that training needs and requirements. Mostly many organisations only consider the job relevant characteristic or the specific skills required in the job such as communication without considering the way in which the employee needs to conduct themselves within the larger group of employees and with the customers (Schmidt, 2004). The research conducted by Waight and Madera, (2011) have suggested that employees who are overqualified poor with higher levels of formal education and to participate in job training and is motivated to undertake positive changes in their social and cultural aspects but often do not have a long tenure in front-line positions. These employees who are motivated to more up in the carrier are either looking for promotions within the same organisation or better paid jobs in other organisations. But there is contrasting evidence to suggest that employees from different social and cultural backgrounds may not be able to assimilate the training that is designed for other employees.


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