Frontline Employee Management in a Post-COVID World

The retail industry is nearly unrecognizable from what it was at the start of 2020. The pandemic wreaked havoc on retail businesses, forcing companies to cut employee hours, furlough staff, or lay off workers altogether. Although some frontline workers were deemed “essential,” few received pay or benefits increases when working during the worst of the Covid-19 outbreak. Those that weren’t deemed essential faced massive layoffs, which resulted in a 65% retail turnover rate in 2021.  

After all, why should frontline retail workers choose to keep their job in-stores, when they can earn $13+ working fulfillment in an Amazon warehouse with less virus exposure? Modern retailers need to give employees a reason to stay with their company… especially right now. Let’s take a look at a few management strategies that retailers can implement to boost employee retention during this time of upheaval.

The Turnover Problem Has Peaked 

The retail industry is rebounding from unprecedented retail unemployment, but the turnover issue is not new. Consider that 27% of employees across industries left their jobs in 2019, prior to the pandemic. But the annual turnover rate in 2020 was a jaw-dropping 57.3% — meaning significantly more retail employees left their jobs than kept them last year. There’s a common misconception that retail workers are replaceable, but this isn’t actually the case.  

Differentiation will be the key word in the war for talent – when the retailer down the street pays the same or more – how do you differentiate the experience for the employee so they feel valued enough to stay with you? – Richard Van Patten, the Stores Consulting Group

While a company may be able to find someone new to fill an open position, the cost of recruitment, training, and work materials cost $3,328 to replace a retail employee making just $10/hour. The craziest thing about this is that nearly ¾ of retail turnover is preventable.

Boost Retention by Incentivizing Career Development 

Ready for an HR hack? Offering growth opportunities is the key to employee retention. But employees can’t move up the ladder to more skilled positions — such as shift supervisor, floor manager, display architect, etc. — without the proper education to give them those skills. All too often in retail and retail-adjacent industries, employee training falls by the wayside in favor of hours on the selling floor.  

Fortunately, training and selling do not have to be mutually exclusive. It’s never been easier to transform associates into brand ambassadors on the selling floor — without paying them for extra training on their days off. On-floor training modules can be done during associates’ downtime on the clock. Retailers can incentivize employees to do this training by giving them access to better-paying shifts, or additional hours. This gives frontliners a sense of pride in their position and builds a greater emotional connection with the company, thereby reducing turnover.

The ability for an employee to pick up shifts through a shift marketplace helps them to fuller employment on their terms. – Richard Van Patten, the Stores Consulting Group

Delivery Jobs Compete for Frontline Talent 

Here’s a hard pill to swallow: in today’s digital marketplace, ¼ of new job postings are in fulfillment and delivery roles. Many low-wage workers who were once frontline employees in retail stores are now working delivery. That’s because delivery jobs often pay better than working at a store. The average retail worker’s salary falls at about $9,000 less than the average delivery driver 

It’s yet another reason why implementing advancement opportunities is key to retail retention. Employees with a passion for frontline retail will be willing to train to achieve a higher salary in a management role down the line, instead of defecting to a delivery position that pays more right off the bat.  

Flexible Schedules Lead to Increased Opportunities

Empowered employees don’t quit their jobs. The issue that a lot of retailers run into when trying to empower frontline workers through technology, however, is sparse adoption and use of workforce management solutions. Frontline employees will only utilize workforce management apps when they factor into their daily/weekly tasks. The more apps employees are expected to utilize, the more likely that certain apps will fall by the wayside –– and retailer’s technology investment along with them. 

In today’s environment of part time help carrying more than one job, the retailer who gives them the most flexibility in scheduling will win their loyalty. – Richard Van Patten, the Stores Consulting Group

Frontline employees often juggle part-time retail work with other commitments –– school, other jobs, children, etc. As such, digital workplace solutions need to be intuitive to be practical. In striving to implement a streamlined digital workplace solution, retailers focused on simplicity will be able to provide the ease of use that leads to app adoption. One easy-to-use app will improve employee engagement, enable employers to create advancement opportunities, and give employees the scheduling flexibility that can’t be found in delivery/fulfillment roles.

About the author:

Steven Kramer, Chief Executive Officer

Steven is a technology entrepreneur with over 20 years of executive leadership experience in founding and scaling companies developing disruptive, enterprise-class technologies. In 1999, Steven co-founded iCongo, a leading global software provider for omni-channel retail and B2B commerce solutions, which merged with hybris Software in 2011 and became the largest independent provider of e-commerce solutions with 27 offices worldwide, 1000+ employees and more than 600 customers. Steven was part of the Executive Management team and Board Member at hybris. hybris Software was purchased by SAP in 2013. While working with companies on their omni-channel strategies, Steven identified a gap between traditional workforce management systems and how companies actually hire, schedule and manage their frontline employees. With this in mind, Steven co-founded WorkJam.

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