After leaving Colchester Institute and gaining a Diploma in Clothing and distributive Trades in 1987, Karen embarked on a long career in the fashion industry. Karen worked her way up from a local clothing factory as a sample machinist onto the supplier side and then in buying offices for well-known fashion brands based in London. She traveled extensively throughout Europe and Asia to conduct factory audits and approve the brand’s production, ensuring high-quality garments were achieved. In 2009, Karen was made redundant from her Technical Manager role at Jacques Vert, and due to the recession and very few technical manager roles available within the industry, she decided to work freelance. Being highly experienced, Karen was inundated with work, so she started contracting her work out to an experienced garment technologist she had worked with within the industry. Then, before she knew it, fifteen garment technologists worked through her, so she decided to set up a fashion recruitment business founded in 2010. Karen knows only too well that you only go into recruitment if you love helping people, and to be able to do this within the fashion industry was her dream come true.
The fashion industry was forced into hybrid working in 2020 because of the lockdowns since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Besides fashion designers who have already been working from home for many years, they find inspiration outside of an office environment. However, most people within the fashion industry can’t do their job remotely, so many brands and retail head office roles, such as the buying and merchandising departments, before COVID-19, worked the traditional 9-5 workday in the office.
The fashion industry is tactile, where the buying teams look at samples coming in every day, sometimes twice a day. They need to check the feel of the fabric, fit, and make of the garment and display them together to select ranges. It is hard to do this when employees are out of the office some of the week, as they would need to wait for them to approve them, as this is not something you can do on a video call. Sending out samples to employees’ homes is not an option either, as another staff member may need to refer to that sample, so waiting for it to come back into the office could prevent them from meeting the critical path, which would mean production delays. This is why most of our roles on our books are back in the office five days a week, as fashion brands and retailers realise the current hybrid or working-from-home situation is not working for their business needs.
We can easily place candidates back into a five-day weekday office-based role if they are from my generation, Generation X (Born between 1965 and 1980) because these candidates have lived through three recessions and were the first generation of the “latchkey kids” and as more and more women entered the workforce, more children were left to take care of themselves after school, so this shaped them into being more independent and self-sufficient and have been brought up working the traditional 9-5 workday in the office. They are frequently seen as having a solid work ethic and are a great asset to any team.
However, to fill office-based roles with candidates from the Gen Y (Millennials), Born 1981-1996, is more challenging, as they don’t understand that it’s now a privilege to work from home, but to be fair to them, many Gen Y came from the working age during the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and have faced a challenging job market. This has led many young professionals to look for alternative ways to make a living, such as starting their businesses making them entrepreneurial at an early age. Hence, they only know and understand flexible working, so they won’t be restricted to the traditional 9-5 workday week. Therefore, they will explore opportunities to work independently, remotely, or as freelancers because that’s all they know. They have also been used to hybrid working for the last three years because of the lockdowns since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As a recruiter, I sit on the fence about fully remote, hybrid, or five days in the office because, for years, we have been saying that we need a work/life balance. Still, at the same time, I do worry about young professionals having less engagement with their coworkers, causing social isolation, missing out on workplace conversations whilst working remotely, increasing depression and anxiety, putting them at a disadvantage for promotions and other career development opportunities and missing out on performance bonuses. Young professionals are super intelligent, but they sometimes need to learn how to engage with coworkers and understand how to influence, persuade, and navigate a work situation to their advantage. You can’t do that by working from home; you must watch someone from Generation X to learn this in an office environment.
Fashion brands and Retailers will likely struggle to attract and keep talent if they want Gen Y (Millennials) in the office full-time, five days a week, as young professionals have different expectations around workplace flexibility. There are currently approximately 14.39 million millennials in the UK. That is a sizable employee pool to understand and look at how they can adapt their businesses to meet the young professional needs; as we move further into the digital age, it will be more important than ever to have the perspective of the Gen Y and Gen X who have experienced life in two different centuries and multiple generations. Gen Y can work smarter and faster as they have grown up in the computer age, so maybe they can work fewer days/hours than Generation X.
I understand Generation X wants to work longer hours to have enough money to retire at retirement age, but Gen Y wants to work fewer hours to enjoy life but work for longer past retirement age. They may have this right, as you can do more things when you are younger, and it’s not guaranteed you will live past retirement age. It’s just whether businesses can work around this new work pattern.