River Island Report

Shift swapping at River Island

October 2017


400 members of staff at River Island started and signed the petition asking for the ability to freely swap their shifts. Off the back of this, we surveyed them and found that many staff were struggling with the lack of flexibility in their work. We also found issues relating to bullying and mental health. This report collates those results for the use of River Island.

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We asked staff the reasons they were denied shift swaps, and their answers fit a few themes:

The most common theme was that staff were told that shift swapping was against company policy:

“I got a written warning. Company policy says no shift swaps whatsoever.”

“The store manager said that it wasn't allowed in the company.”

“My manager said that it was against policy, however in another store I have worked in it is completely allowed so it is just lies.”

“Not allowed to swap or change shifts it's against company policy.”

“I was told I can’t swap. End of.”

Lots of staff believe that it is completely banned - ignoring the one official swap allowed per month - even though there is nothing prohibiting it in the company policy (according to correspondence with River Island head office).

It appears that either branch management are consistently uninformed on this aspect of staff policy or they are deliberately misinforming their employees to prevent shift swaps.


Another theme was to do with the amount of notice required:

”My manager said I didn’t give enough notice even though I had someone willing to do the shift, and we had both worked our minimum hours.”

”Said they needed a month notice to swap my shift.”

“That the shift couldn't be swapped because it was too late notice, even though I had requested 4 weeks in advance.”

“Manager didn’t let me because they said they needed 6 weeks notice. Which for loads of things, people don’t have.”

From our results it seems that staff are unclear on the amount of lead time required to secure their one shift swap a month and that the time ranges depending on the store. On top of that, many people we surveyed explained that they have required time off in emergencies (see below), so even if shift swaps are allowed in their branch, a 4 week notice time does not cater to emergencies.

Almost 60% of River Island workers have had to falsely call in sick to get time off for emergencies

58% of staff told us that because they are not allowed to swap shifts for emergencies, they have had to falsely call in sick to attend to them:

“I had a funeral to attend, of a close family member, we’re not allowed swaps on company policy and I got threatened with a disciplinary for ringing in sick"

“My child was sick and I even had someone to take the shift, but it wasn’t allowed, so I had to pretend to be ill.”

“I had a hospital appointment in which I requested a day off two weeks in advance as that's what we've been told to do by managers. I then was told they didn't receive any email and I had to call in sick just to attend it. I’ve seen so many occasions where people have had to fake it to go to important things that management doesn’t let them go to.”

“I am a student and had a final exam on one of the days but still was told I couldn't have it off”

“Had a holiday booked a year in advance and gave five months notice when the date opened to submit the holidays for the new year and was still declined, so I had to say I was ill.”


This situation (among a handful of others) demonstrates that employees are not always treated well even when they are ill:


“I did call in sick because I was in hospital being treated for an asthma attack I was shouted at down the phone by my manager. It was a disgrace, considering I was never late for a shift and always did any extra hours they asked me to.”

The vast majority of people’s answers related to funerals, childcare and hospital appointments. Important things that cannot be (or are difficult to) re-arranged and should not require people to call in sick to attend.


64% of workers said they had been forced to work overtime when they didn’t want to:

Many workers appear to be coerced into working overtime through a variety of reasons, most of which don’t appear to be through a consistent and fair system:

“Didn't get a choice, hours were just put on the rota and to dispute them for any reasons your made to feel guilty. I said I couldn’t do it and manager told me I was letting the team down, then I asked to swap and they said no.”

“I was told I needed to do it as a favour for the manager because she'd let me have a week off due to mental wellbeing.”

“We were told that we have no choice. Either do it or call in sick, I didn’t want to swap because then that was my one for the month gone, it’s ridiculous. Also, they put posters around the staff room saying ‘we reserve the right to make you do extra hours’”

“They ignored the availability I gave them and told me I had to find someone else to do my shift”

A consistent allocation for overtime that takes account of stated availability and which also includes the ability to freely swap shifts would negate this problem whilst also maintaining overtime coverage when required.


We asked if River Island supported their employees with health (including mental health) concerns:

This question received the most feedback as employees explained health concerns were not fairly considered by managers and that the infrastructure for support either wasn’t in place or not promoted enough. Many who were aware of the support from The Retail Trust explained that as an outlet, it could help people, but it did nothing to educate managers in dealing with it, and so it didn’t reduce the problem at work:

“No proper support - my friend got fired for having hospital appointments when she tried to commit suicide. Disgusting.”

“No real support with anything whatsoever. A close family member died. I found out whilst I was at work on my lunch and requested to leave early as I was really upset. I got told to fix my makeup and get on with it.”

“I’ve been off sick with anxiety due to manager bullying me.”

“Definitely not. They don't understand when you're having problems. I struggle with depression, anxiety and PTSD none of which is even cared about. I’ve contacted the support offered, but it doesn’t help with my manager’s ignorance.”

“Dreadful, I had 4 months off with depression and work related anxiety, the manager made things very hard for me, refused to let me swap shifts even if I did the same hours each week and eventually I had no choice but to leave.”

“No, they have a mental health line you can call but it’s rarely talked about and support from actual managers in store is little.”

“Not in the slightest. We are pushed and pushed by management and sarcastic comments are made when we try and say it's too much. I have suffered from anxiety for years which is stress related and since being back with the company my anxiety levels have been through the roof.”

“I have had depression for multiple years as well as separate family issues and health problems and I get no extra support from work nor days off or swaps when I need them when I'm unable to come in work due to my problems.”

These answers reflect the range and severity of many of the answers we got, with a few exceptions that showed awareness and fair action from a handful of managers.

These concerns would be greatly reduced by mental health training for all staff (particularly managers). As well as structures in place to assist people in requesting time for recuperation and reporting mental health issues (including bullying) in a way that is acted upon.



The ability to swap shifts freely to attend emergencies, to be flexible around outside demands and to tend to one’s well-being are essential to the health of a workforce. Currently, many River Island staff are working without this and along with a lack of general understanding of mental and physical health, it’s causing them great distress, without any real outlet.

We request the introduction of free shift swapping with a shorter notice period be allowed, encouraged and communicated to help staff be flexible around their requirements. We are also asking for better mental health policy and provision for employees within the organisation.

We are happy to provide further insight into your workforce if that would be helpful to you.