Narrowing the Labor Shortage Through Positive Employee Engagement
Across the country, “MASKS REQUIRED” signs have been replaced with “HELP WANTED.” And these signs aren’t coming down anytime soon thanks to a nationwide shortage of workers.
Many economists point to low wages, and there's no doubt retailers could do better here, but there's another big factor: retailers don’t make it easy to work for them.
More Than Enough Work to Go Around
The demand is there. Customers are eager to return to the store. But the shortage of employees to meet that high demand has slowed the retail recovery.
Market research group NPD shows that consumers are spending about 12 percent more than they did this time last year, and 16 percent more than they did this time before the pandemic in 2019. Yet the retail unemployment rate remains above the national average. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a 5.8 percent national unemployment rate, but unemployment in the retail industry is 7.3 percent. That 1.5 percent difference means there are hundreds of thousands of retail jobs currently unfilled.
The harsh reality is that few retailers leverage available technology to improve employee engagement. For example, we hear from retail workers who say their employers still post paper schedules, or who take screenshots of their schedules because of the many steps it takes to get to their online schedules. We hear about trainees who are still watching old training videos in a breakroom, still punching in on a time clock, or filling out slips of paper to request days off.
In 2021, these practices are archaic.
Modernizing Employee Engagement
Retail is a first job for many people. The youngest potential employees have grown up in a digital world, so to maximize employee engagement employers have to follow one simple concept: Meet them where they are.
This means investing in natural language processing (NLP) capabilities and artificial intelligence that make attracting, training and retaining employees simpler, and developing an employee engagement plan that actually puts employees first.
NLP can increase efficiency by automating scheduling requests, alerting employees when a shift is coming up, or broadcasting when someone is needed for an open shift. Other capabilities like keeping closer track of time by allowing employees to clock in and out, training employees more quickly using on-demand video, and reading and signing new hire paperwork can be done more efficiently and effectively on the devices they already know and love.
Modern technology can build a culture of inclusivity as retailers can personalize communications with their employees. These communications might include corporate and operational messaging through channels that employees prefer, such as SMS. Little steps like this help fuel a culture where every employee feels valued and engaged.
These might seem like big changes, but ultimately they remove one of a retailer’s biggest headaches: retaining employees. If employees don’t feel frustrated by archaic processes to request a day off or switch a shift, they’ll be more engaged and less likely to quit.
To summarize, committing to modernize your employee engagement can:
- increase operational efficiencies;
- build a culture of inclusivity; and
- improve employee retention.
Some of the most well-known brands in the country have already implemented this, with great success. And smaller ones have, too
The Trickle-Down Effect
Of course, this also delivers potentially the biggest benefit to retailers — a happy customer.
Happy employees deliver better experiences. If your employees enjoy their jobs and feel more connected and valued by their employers, they bring that mindset to their interactions with your customers.
Isn’t that the end goal of all retailers? Positive customer engagements to build a loyal brand following? It can all start with positive employee engagement.
Bill Farnsworth is the retail industry strategy lead at Cisco, the worldwide leader in technology that powers the internet.