It comes as no surprise that retailers are scrambling to find workers in today’s tight labor market. As “The Great Resignation” rages on, 4.3 million Americans left their jobs in December, according to the latest Jobs Report. While it’s easy to lament all the ways the pandemic has upended the workforce, it’s also unlocked an opportunity to change the existing labor model for the better.
Right now, traditional labor is tied to outdated concepts: the idea that full-time jobs are the only real option, and the fallacy that workers can only do the same job they have previous experience in. The problem is that these are employer-centric notions that don’t fit with the flexibility today’s workers want and need. One Ernst & Young survey found that 90 percent of employees want flexibility in where and when they work, with 54 percent prioritizing “when” over “where.”
Now, more than ever, workers need maximum flexibility to choose when and where they work, down to the individual shift level. At the same time, retailers need more cost-effective ways to find and retain hourly wage employees. To do so, we need to fundamentally change the nature of work so that the labor market can build a holistic, mutually beneficial work ecosystem.
Even as we hopefully emerge from this pandemic, shifting to a flexible, shift-based work model will deliver massive benefits to workers and retailers alike.
Fractionalized Shifts, Not Jobs
Let’s take a convenience store as an example. Many can’t find workers these days in the context of a full-time job. They're likely looking for someone who can “do it all,” from merchandising, to food prep, to cashier and even bathroom cleaning. However, it's time to start thinking about fractionalizing a full-time job into shifts.
This means giving workers the opportunity to choose work that interests them and that they’re good at, instead of having to do four different jobs as one. By doing so, potential candidates who may need more flexibility in their days — particularly single parents or women juggling remote school and childcare — can select whichever shifts work for their schedule. Note that labor professors and economists say the pandemic made it harder for the nation’s 15 million retail workers to find reliable childcare.
Flexible shifts also allow people looking for a second source of income a chance to supplement their full-time job, perhaps on the weekends, or college students who are looking to earn some money while they study.
In this day and age, retail workers should be able to decide not only who they work for on any given day, but when — turning down work when they need to and picking up more shifts when they can. By giving workers more autonomy, they're able to achieve better balance and control in their lives. And it gives retail businesses the ability to fill their job openings with a fractional approach. After all, one worker for 40 hours per week is the same as four workers for 10 hours each per week.
Skills-Based Hiring, Not Work History Myopia
Today’s workers don’t need to be pigeonholed by roles they’ve held in the past or their employment history. Workers have a variety of valuable business skills that they’ve used to perform strongly, and those skills can often translate into other job opportunities. There’s no reason that a worker can’t handle a shift at the mall jewelry counter one week and then work a hotel front desk the following. Similarly, a good restaurant server who can cheerfully deal with difficult customers and memorize complicated orders provides a great experience that may translate well into an upscaled opportunity at a retail contact center.
As a result of this skills-based approach, we should see the rise of the micro-entrepreneur, a new type of worker who wants the freedom to decide when and where they work while still enjoying upward mobility.
Flexibility for Retail Employers
Like workers, retailers need flexibility too. When retailers need to scale up to handle the busy holiday shopping season, for example, or scale down at quieter points in the buying cycle, paying workers per staffed hour allows employers to better meet their staffing needs with greater speed and efficiency. Fractionalizing shifts and leaning into skills-based work also opens up a greater window to qualified talent, giving employers the chance to tap into this pool when they need it most.
As the pandemic continues to transform the retail landscape, now is the time to rewrite the rules around hourly work. Giving workers more power to choose their work environments and manage their schedule while providing employers more opportunities to find and retain talent means everybody wins.
Aakash Kumar is the CEO and founder of Shiftsmart, a marketplace matching shift workers to employers.
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Aakash Kumar founded Shiftsmart to execute his vision of empowering today’s rapidly expanding labor workforce to maximize their employment opportunities and help usher in a future where they can work exclusively based on their preferences. Kumar’s forward-thinking vision and leadership places him at the forefront of addressing profound changes impacting labor markets worldwide with his goal of revolutionizing the modern labor market and increasing the quality of life for the global workforce. Along with his strategic and thought leadership, Kumar is responsible for developing and ensuring that Shiftsmart’s “People-First” philosophy is pervasive throughout all aspects of the company’s relationships and technology. Prior to founding Shiftsmart, Kumar was Cloud Business Operations and Strategy Lead at Google, working on behalf of the executive leadership team, where he specialized in the labor dynamics of managing staffing companies and large distributed workforces.