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Improving the Frontline-Employee Experience to Engage, Empower and Retain the Retail Workforce

An estimated 1.2 million jobs were open across the retail sector in July 2021, compared to 876,000 the year prior. The labor troubles come at a time when retailers are also grappling with major changes to their businesses — with pandemic-related shifts to their business models resulting in an increased need for flexibility and new skills among their workforces. But there is a competitive advantage to retailers adopting a workforce focus. Proof is the link between employee and customer experience.

How is your company understanding and engaging your frontline employees so they stay safe, empowered, and satisfied?

Read this article for a solution that helps retailers prioritize employee – and, in turn, customer – experience. Learn how to move to a profitable employee-focused future, including:

  • The challenges retailers are facing.
  • The value of a skills monitoring capability.
  • How delivering mobile-friendly capabilities to workers is a must.

Content Summary

Improving the Frontline-Employee Experience to Help Conquer Retail Challenges
Challenges retailers are facing
Responding to the imperative to invest in employees
Moving to an employee-focused future

Improving the Frontline-Employee Experience to Help Conquer Retail Challenges

The number of job openings in the U.S. was a whopping 10.4 million on the last day of September 2021. Workers across industries are also voluntarily quitting their jobs at a staggering rate — with the number of U.S. workers quitting reaching a record high of 4.4 million in September 2021.

The retail industry, which faces high turnover rates and hiring difficulties even in the best of times, is among the sectors struggling the hardest when it comes to hiring and retaining hourly and frontline workers. (A full 685,000 retail workers put in their notice in September 2021, for example, and an estimated 1.2 million jobs were open across the sector in September 2021, compared to 791,000 the year prior.) The labor troubles come at a time when retailers are also grappling with major changes to their businesses — with pandemic-related shifts to their business models resulting in an increased need for flexibility and new skills among their workforce.

Being able to recruit, hire, onboard, and train associates quickly — with simple processes for managing things like schedules and benefits — has never been more important for retailers. More than ever, retailers must prioritize understanding and engaging their frontline employees so they stay safe, empowered, and satisfied. Improving employee experience is the only way to win the war for talent, and it takes flexible, mobile-friendly solutions to make that possible.

This article will walk audiences through the ways a modern HCM solution helps retailers put their people first and prioritize employee experience.

Challenges retailers are facing

COVID has accelerated the transformation of the retail industry. The pandemic has changed compliance regulations, shifted consumer expectations, and required retailers to embrace new kinds of shopping experiences designed for social-distancing and safety. Amid these changes, retailers are also squeezed for talent.

“If you look back 18 months or so, it was a challenging talent environment even without the pandemic,” Neil Jensen, VP of HCM Product Strategy for Workday. “Then you insert in the pandemic and every retailer was either forced to close their doors for a period of time or dramatically change their business and delivery models.”

“It’s created an environment where — even at this stage in the pandemic where things are opening back up — talent is difficult to procure,” says Jensen. “Getting qualified candidates who want to work in a physical environment is a tremendous challenge, and we’ve seen upticks in attrition across industry and across employer size. This great reshuffling is happening, as people are making life choices to resign from positions and go do different things after having a lot of time to think about it.”

This “great reshuffling” is leading to skills gaps for retailers.

“Retailers are in a position where they need slightly different skill sets in order to accommodate new capabilities that they’re trying as part of their business,” says Jensen. “Whether it’s at-home delivery — where a store associate drops off a package with their personal car — or curbside pickup — where the face-to-face, customer-service rapport is significantly greater than with, say, stocking responsibilities — there’s definitely a demand for new skills.”

Meeting this demand, especially amid labor shortages, requires cross-training existing employees and putting more responsibilities on their plates. With the shifting workloads comes the risk of retail employers violating labor compliance laws, however.

“When you’re in a short-staff situation, your risk goes up because you’re going to try to do more with what you have,” says Jensen. “When you’re asking a whole lot more from an hourly employee, you may not necessarily be keeping your eye on their individual hours worked and break time. You could very well put yourself in a position where you’re breaking rules and breaking wage-and-hour laws — not intentionally, but just by trying to maximize the people that you have and cover your demand.”

With employees stretched thin, many retailers risk delivering a diminished customer experience — and losing customers to competitors as a result.

“If you’re out in the wild today and you’re in retail establishments, lots of times you’re seeing signage with apologies — things that are saying, ‘Please bear with us,’” says Jensen. “The consuming public is going to be forgiving for a period of time, but then it’s going to get to a point where that patience and that forgiveness wears out.”

At that point, “people are going to make choices based on experiences,” says Jensen. “They’re going to go to those retail establishments where they feel like the retailer is able to maintain a certain level and quality of service, and then they’re going to abandon those retailers that aren’t.

Responding to the imperative to invest in employees

In response to the “great reshuffling” and other labor challenges, retailers are stepping up to the plate with new approaches to recruiting and hiring.

“I see a whole lot of creativity out there — whether it’s free food, free products, or other perks — and I think those things help,” says Jensen. “But I think what probably wins the game is a commitment to skills development and really conveying a message that the organization wants to invest in its hires and not only leverage them for what they can do today, but also help grow their capabilities and skill set to be able to do more in the future.”

“The more that retailers make that commitment to invest in their employees, the more they’re going to succeed,” says Jensen.

Following through on a commitment to invest in employees requires the right solutions. It’s more important than ever for retailers to invest in empowering their employees to do their jobs well, expand their responsibilities, and advance in the organization.

That starts with taking full advantage of employees’ existing skill sets.

“One of the things retailers can do is really leverage capabilities that help them to very clearly understand the skills that they have in their existing workforce,” says Jensen. “It may not be things that are expressly obvious based on the person that they hired. Uncovering skills people have that are more unknown allows you to tap those individuals for specific purposes based on that greater understanding.”

“We offer a skills monitoring capability that really helps retailers to tap into that full picture of the worker skill set,” says Jensen of Workday Human Capital Management solution, which uses machine learning and analytics to understand your people’s current skills, as well as the ones you need.

From there, retailers can provide training recommendations to employees (and empower employees to access those recommendations through self-service tools).

“It supports really digging in and getting to know the workers — even the ones that you’re attracting through recruiting — at that more intimate, granular level,” says Jensen. “Doing that is going to set employers apart as they look to tap people for skills they may not know they have in-house.”

Empowering your employees also means providing a highquality experience when it comes to things like scheduling. Workday is investing in improving how workers interact with scheduling, time and absence, while also bringing insight and power to the managers who manage schedules and organize and approve time — helping them optimize the productivity of their workforce, maintain labor compliance, and control labor costs all at the same time.

“Our labor scheduling capability is leveraging next generation technology to make sure that it optimizes each schedule based on the availability, capabilities, and preferences of the workers decked against the requirements for the role,” says Jensen of Workday Scheduling & Labor Optimization solution. “It uses an AI engine to make those matches, so that we’re really efficiently optimizing the talent that you have.”

“The product also puts a lot of power in the hands of the frontline worker to direct their schedules,” says Jensen. Since Workday solutions are entirely mobile friendly, workers can “be flexible in the way in which they engage.”

Delivering mobile-friendly capabilities to workers is a must.

“It’s important to bring tools and features to the medium where people operate every day,” says Jensen. “Not everybody has access to a PC or a laptop — and even if they do they’re not necessarily walking around town with a Macbook — but there are more than 5 billion people on this planet with mobile phones. It’s a lot easier to pull your iPhone or your Samsung device from your pocket and take direct action.”

Taking direct action via mobile is about more than just adjusting schedules. Using Workday, retailers can prompt employees to answer pulse surveys, view their paychecks, complete onboarding processes, or even select their benefits via their mobile devices.

“We leveraged mobile capability as part of our own open enrollment here at Workday, and we had around 80% of our workers choose the mobile version to complete their open enrollment,” says Jensen. “We’ve made it super simple for workers to elect their benefits via the mobile device.”

As retailers revisit those benefits and other programs to ensure they meet employees’ needs, Workday offers them tremendous flexibility. Workday makes it simple for retailers to update organizational structures, benefits, compensation, and worker records in real time, or to rapidly adapt to new legislation surrounding time off (or other concerns).

In fact, everything in Workday is designed for flexibility and speed. That benefits both employers and employees from the very start of the recruiting process — which is an area where retailers can always use an edge on the competition.

“If you can effectively recruit and you can move faster than your competition in order to get people in the door, you have an advantage,” says Jensen. “Our recruiting capability really is designed to capture candidates across all levels, whether it be the frontline workforce or the professional workforce, and deliver a deeply integrated experience that allows you to onboard and train those people very efficiently.”

“Getting people productive and proficient quickly is the name of the game,” says Jensen. “For some of our customers, getting associates active on the floor the same day as recruitment is the goal, and we help them achieve that.”

Moving to an employee-focused future

Empowering and investing in employees by improving the frontline worker experience is one way retailers can rise to their current challenges (and avoid putting the customer experience at risk).

By enabling retailers to manage everything from recruiting to payroll in one integrated solutions suite, Workday makes that possible. And, using technologies like machine learning and automation, Workday People Analytics also surfaces data and insights for retailers to make better decisions about how to utilize their talent.

“Fully enabling that frontline worker in the retail space through a very elegant, thoughtful, digital mobile experience is the future,” says Jensen. “It’s about being able to serve up not only the things that they need to get done to transact on their day to day, but also engaging them in a career development discussion, and continuing to grow their skills, is paramount. Combining all those things together is the game changer for retailers.”

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