3 Ways to Address Frontline Employees’ Pain Points to Reduce Churn
The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the expectations of frontline retail workers, and they’re more willing than ever to leave companies that are still clinging to outdated corporate cultures. Consulting firm Korn Ferry recently surveyed more than 100 major retailers in the U.S. and found that turnover in the industry, long notoriously high, was up significantly in 2022. The turnover rate for hourly positions in U.S. retail stores was 75.8 percent in 2022 as of early November, up from 68 percent in 2021, according to the survey. And turnover among part-time hourly in-store employees was even higher, at almost 85 percent in both years.
The rising churn rate highlights the risks retailers and brands face when they disregard the employee experience, view hourly staff as easily replaceable, and fail to listen to employees and equip them with the tools, technology and training they need to succeed and advance their careers. High turnover also reflects the stressors frontline workers are facing.
Retail associates have been dealing with COVID concerns for more than two-and-a-half years now, in addition to having to do more with less. Store staffs have been tasked with extra duties such as fulfilling orders for in-store and curbside pickup, both of which became much more popular during the pandemic. Furthermore, the retail industry has faced a rash of thefts by organized shoplifting rings and customer behavior patterns have changed, with many shoppers seeming more impatient than ever and more willing to take out their anger and frustration on frontline workers.
Given the historically tight labor market in the U.S. — where there are still 1.7 job openings for every unemployed worker — and ongoing macroeconomic uncertainty, many retail companies are now looking for ways to engage and upskill employees in order to improve the frontline experience and retain valuable employees.
To Boost Retention, Empower Employees With Technology That Addresses Their Priorities
Here are three strategies retailers and brands can implement to address some of the major pain points that lead to high frontline turnover:
- Give frontline workers more control over their schedules. According to a Forrester study commissioned by WorkJam, “exit interviews, surveys and research consistently show that retail employees want … flexibility and predictability in their work schedules.” To give employees more flexibility and control over their schedules, while lessening managers’ scheduling burdens, retailers can provide hourly staff with access to an open shift management platform. The technology enables employees to pick up extra shifts at their own store or other locations and to swap shifts when needed. Whether an employee is simply looking for more hours, wants to pick up shifts at another location where their friends work, or is home from college on a break and wants to work a few shifts at a store close to home, these platforms make it easy to arrange.
- Provide training and career development opportunities. The Korn Ferry survey mentioned above found that the top reason retail employees quit is to seize a better opportunity. A separate study from McKinsey & Company found that more than 70 percent of frontline workers have applied for career advancement opportunities. Empowering associates with technology that allows them to build their knowledge and skills — and mapping exactly how additional training can help them advance their careers within the company — can improve not only productivity and the customer experience, but also employee job satisfaction and retention.
- Improve two-way communication to boost engagement. Many retailers and brands still rely on clipboards and billboards in the breakroom to communicate directives and updates to frontline staffs. Nearly every frontline worker has a smartphone today and workplace apps offer communication tools that make it easy for associates to communicate with colleagues and management at all levels of an organization via their phone. Like all people, frontline workers don’t want to just be dictated to; they want their ideas and concerns to be heard and addressed. Therefore, empowering them with technology that facilitates two-way communication with leadership can boost engagement, loyalty and workplace happiness.
Constant turnover is expensive and even more difficult when workers are scarce. Onboarding and training new employees adds extra pressure to margins already squeezed by inflation, supply chain challenges and rising marketing costs. One way strong retailers and brands are fighting churn is by empowering their frontline employees with technology that gives them more control over their schedules and career development, while facilitating two-way communication with staff and leadership at all levels of the organization.
Steven Kramer is CEO of WorkJam, the leading digital frontline workplace.
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