As the changing landscape drives competition and growth among retail brands, companies are facing acute labor shortages that make it tough to recruit and retain the people they need.
To address the challenge, some companies are transforming HR by investing in technology to automate recruitment and HR processing. Others are leveraging third-party websites and recruitment companies to help with screening. Beyond recruiting, some are amping up in-store automation (i.e., self-checkout, auto-pay) to reduce headcount and support existing employees in their job responsibilities.
These technology and automation investments can be an important part of the solution, but they fail to address the most pressing challenge we're seeing. You could call it “the great disconnect”—the gap between what matters most to employees and what employers are doing about it. Companies that are taking a close, critical look at their organizations and making changes to address this disconnect gain a significant competitive advantage in attracting and keeping talented people. And companies that don’t are falling behind, risking revenue and market share.
So How Can You Attract & Retain The People You Need?
Changing Workforce Issues, Changing Motivations
Although the pandemic caused people to reassess their relationship to work, the concept of employee engagement is far from new. And lack of engagement is often a result of unmet needs. When Gartner surveyed more than 3,500 people after Covid, more than 65% said the pandemic shifted their attitude toward work and the value they place on their personal lives. And more than half said it made them want to contribute more to society.
Yet for the most part, what employees want has remained consistent, including a sense of purpose, accomplishment, connection to the organization and to colleagues, ownership of their work, autonomy in how they spend their time and fair treatment. What has changed is that talent scarcity has given people greater leverage to demand that employers meet their needs, as evidenced by recent employee walkouts and the rise of unionization.
Compensation is important, but it’s not enough to fully address what people want and need from their work. In a 2022 survey, frontline retail and hospitality workers listed their biggest challenges as feeling worn out at the end of their shift (73%) and not receiving regular training (53%). They also shared that feeling valued by their company and trusting management were most important to their job satisfaction.
Successful organizations evolve and adapt to changing market and workforce expectations. Given the talent shortage, retail is at a critical inflection point. Are you ready? And how will you move forward?
Your Employee Experience Drives Your Customer Experience
As expectations shift, retailers have had to reimagine their customer experience at every touchpoint, from online to in-store. While most companies understand the need to provide a seamless customer experience, they tend to overlook their people as a critical component to that success.
Getting your customer experience right starts by getting your employee experience right. So how do you create a work culture that attracts and retains employees who act as loyal ambassadors for your brand, adding value to every customer experience, every day? You can get started by asking a few questions:
- Who are we? What’s our company’s story? How connected is our workforce to our story? How do we know?
- What are our challenges—especially related to recruiting and keeping our people?
- How are we prepared to invest in developing our people? What training resources can help support them?
- How will we create an engaging and meaningful work experience? What will our employee journey look like?
Solving Four Challenges to Growth
Based on our work with leading retail brands and recent cross-industry research, we help companies solve four main challenges:
1. Integrating Business and People Strategies
Retail organizations are struggling with increased competition, supply chain issues, and learning to leverage data to uncover customer needs. All these changes require new skills and new ways of engaging with customers. To successfully deliver on business strategy, retailers need to support current talent in developing new skills and ways of behaving.
2. Recruiting and Retaining Qualified Associates
Covid-19, uncertain economic conditions, lack of career potential and rising operating costs have made hiring and keeping qualified people more difficult than ever. Organizations need data to understand workforce pain points across an employee’s lifecycle and proactively address them through leadership and development programs and workforce environments where people can thrive.
Consider fresh technology and programs that will make a difference in your ability to recruit people who fit your culture and values. Invest in meaningful onboarding with ongoing leadership support and internal career paths that encourage people to stay and grow with your company. And establish a clear, committed DEI vision and corporate purpose—one that creates value for employees. According to a recent study, 48% of employees see DEI goals and progress as the area where the most improvement is needed.
3. Providing Timely, Innovative Team Skill Training & Development
Training and development are often considered soft expenses, meaning they are the first to get cut. Yet inadequate training is a major source of employee dissatisfaction that can negatively impact customer experience.
As retail positions and roles evolve, it’s important to rethink training to provide tools that support effective working relationships and excellent customer service. A 15-minute online video is not enough. The more technical and complex the skill, the more one-to-one training time it may require. New training on emerging technologies needs to be well-supported and tailored to specific roles and teams. In addition to training, employee development calls for an ongoing relationship that includes periodic check-ins and allows for plenty of feedback.
4. Giving Focus and Support to Workforce Engagement and Experience.
Based on your company’s brand and culture, this might include finding new ways to provide a sense of purpose—such as supporting socially and environmentally conscious brands that align with employee values. Other ways to improve employee engagement include offering scheduling flexibility, improving the manager-to-employee relationship, and enhancing career development. The rise of self-checkout and live chat can help retailers expand their employer value proposition and offer skills that go beyond traditional retail career expectations.
The Power of Human-Centered Retail
- A human-centered approach helps retailers connect with what their employees are feeling, thinking and doing. To find out how in tune you are with your employees, ask yourself the following questions:
- What mechanisms do we leverage to stay in touch with the workforce experience?
- How does our people programming reflect the evolving needs of our people and business?
- Do we have any tools that enable two-way conversations with employees? What metrics do we leverage to understand our workforce?
- How are we equipping leaders to coach employees through times of rapid change, mental health challenges, etc.?
The Bottom Line
Creating an exceptional employee experience is your direct path to ensuring an exceptional customer experience. The two are inextricably linked. More than ever, investing in your people is an investment in customer satisfaction, loyalty and business growth. When you believe, as we do, that your people are your greatest asset, putting them first results in much more than just a good feeling. It becomes the heart of your thriving, sustainable business.