Engaged and productive employees are critical to the success of any organization, but retailers in particular are dependent on having the right people in the right place at the right time. When associates don’t show up for work, their absence affects everything from staff morale to customer satisfaction, creating stress and hindering store performance. How big a problem is unplanned absences for retailers? Kronos’ most recent Workforce Institute survey, “What came first: Absenteeism or Low Engagement?,” reveals that retailers not only view unplanned absence as one of their most difficult and time-consuming issues, they also find it detrimental to associate engagement.
It’s a vicious cycle: When engagement dips, unplanned absences spike — and overworked associates burn out and disengage. While unplanned absences will always be a challenge for retailers, there are a few proactive strategies they can deploy to mitigate its impact.
If You Want Your Store to Succeed, Ensure Your Associates Are Succeeding First
Retailers measure store productivity based on revenue and customer satisfaction. It’s no surprise these two metrics take a hit when engagement is low and absence is high.
In our research, nearly two-thirds of U.S. retailers say that poor employee engagement has a big impact on unplanned absence (63 percent), and report a direct correlation between low engagement and increased turnover (61 percent). It’s not rocket science: Employees work inspired when they feel their needs — both on and off the job — are being met. When the work environment is stressful, they’re more likely to become disengaged, call out on short notice, and eventually leave.
Retailers often react to unplanned absences rather than analyzing what’s causing them. Store managers should seek to understand their associates’ experiences at work and tackle the high-impact issues that detract from their workplace culture. They can redesign processes to simplify and streamline daily tasks, and communicate objectives and timelines clearly so associates can feel more in control of their work vs. being whipsawed around by constantly changing priorities. Find ways to let associates know they're doing a good job. A simple “thank you” can go a long way to cement an associate’s loyalty.
Solve the Absence Equation With Intelligent Shift Swapping
The heartbeat of a store operation is ensuring adequate shift coverage. Understanding associate preferences is key to creating better schedules that can lead to lower unplanned absenteeism. When schedules are aligned with associate preferences, staff will be happier, more productive, have fewer absences, and less likely to leave. Employers that also make it easier for associates to change or swap shifts as needed will accrue even greater benefits when it comes to decreasing unplanned absenteeism.
Shift swapping is happening to some degree at nearly all retail organizations globally, but the ways it’s enabled vary greatly. According to the survey, 43 percent use a manual system, 31 percent use an electronic self-service system, but only 23 percent enable associates to swap a shift using a mobile device. Furthermore, only 17 percent permit self-service or mobile-friendly shift swapping without manager intervention.
Enabling easier methods to support self-service shift swapping can reduce last-minute call-outs and no-shows as well as remove the need to schedule additional labor to cover for anticipated absences (something 88 percent of retailers do today). Culturally, however, many managers find it hard to remove themselves from the approval process, worried that schedule quality or store performance may suffer.
In 2019, embrace the advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, which have improved automated shift swapping to accept requests based on business rules and learned patterns while avoiding potential overtime or compliance issues. For managers, this can mean focusing less on administrative work and more on employee development and customer satisfaction. For associates, this means feeling empowered by having greater control over their schedules.
Happy Staff, Happy Store
The key to sustainable success is to develop a staffing and operating model that considers the combined needs of the business, its workforce and its customers. If store managers make smart hiring decisions, stabilize schedules, and utilize technology that enables employees to autonomously cover open shifts, then they're freed up to focus on training and developing associates, interacting with customers, and promoting a positive team environment. It’s no longer a vicious cycle, but a virtuous one.
Joyce Maroney is executive director of The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated, a think tank that helps organizations drive performance by addressing human capital management issues that affect both hourly and salaried employees.