Forrester Study For WorkJam: Frontline Retail Workers Dissatisfied And Disconnected From HQ

January 16, 2022

By Sharon Edelson, Senior Contributor, originally written for Forbes


The Covid-19 pandemic shined a light on frontline retail workers, the challenges they face and how critical they are to an organization. But according to a new survey, not much has been done to make their jobs more satisfying. Hiring more employees would help, but only 63% of respondents planned to do that. Only 8% planned to invest in improving the frontline experience, which would help address the labor shortage.


Conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of WorkJam, the survey polled 502 business decision makers at some of the world’s largest employers of frontline workers.


“We knew there was an issue, not just in productivity, but also engagement in the field,” said Steven Kramer, CEO of WorkJam. “Another reason for doing this survey is that the world changed in the last couple of years and there hasn’t really been very good data to quantify and position the problems that every organization in the world is facing.”


The survey covered a vast area geographically and a variety of retail classifications – 11 countries, over 5,000 frontline employees, directors, VPs, C-level suite leaders – across multiple departments within organizations to get a global view of the issue and of the priorities and perceptions of the problem from the leaders in the field.


“We were not surprised by the findings,” Kramer said. “The survey basically was aligned with our thesis about how big the problem is and also some of the misperceptions that exist within organizations between some of the business priorities and the people priorities. The stars were aligned with everything we saw in the survey.”


“It shouldn’t be a dead-end job,” Kramer said. “Being a frontline employee could be rewarding and could lead to development. Organizations need to adjust the way they’re connecting with employees and that can make it more engaging and fun for the people working there.


“I wouldn’t say it’s a dead end job at all,” Kramer added. “Many of us started our careers as frontline employees and many of our customers who work at the head office, started their careers as frontline employees. The problem is that employees feel it’s a dead end job and that’s a problem that needs to be solved right now.”


There’s been an appreciation of frontline workers being more skilled, so there is an understanding across organizations around the world that there is a need to invest in these employees. What the survey shows is that there’s a desire to invest in people development and productivity tools and also employees.


The labor shortage is a massive issue for a lot of retailers. There’s a desire to invest, and what the survey was very good at bringing to light, is when you looked at the top three priorities of all these retailers, it was growing revenue, increasing profitability and reducing costs.


“There’s a direct link between people and the outcome of the business,” said Kramer. “It’s not even just a correlation, it’s a direct link. That’s the awareness that was really important to come out of the survey.”


“You can look at your business and you may want to increase revenue and reduce costs, but the frontline is the key area that it could be done in, and as a result, the investment should be made there, versus trying to chase other areas of the operation,” Kramer said.


“That’s the big kind of reveal from the survey,” Kramer added. “Companies aren’t looking at the business and people together as one solution, they’re looking at it as separate items. The companies that do understand it are performing way better. You look at their earning reports and they’re scoring higher from a revenue growth perspective and a profitability perspective.


“That’s another area that came out of the survey,” Kramer said. “Companies that get it are winning and that puts a lot of pressure on organizations to really understand the issue right now and the technologies that need to be invested in.


The issues that exist right now with frontline employees has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the important things that needs to happen is technology needs to be a big part of the solution to make employees happier, more engaged and to drive the business results that organizations have as their priority.


Fifty-two of the companies that were surveyed used four different systems at the same time. And that’s while doing the really difficult job of managing consumers and all the activities that happen in a store.


Simplifying the experience for employees is a must. That will streamline the operations and lead to a higher level of engagement by employees. “Many organizations are running manual processes, clip boards, bulletin boards, print materials,” Kramer said. “That leaves the employees disconnected from the company. They only see what’s inside their four walls and they really can’t align with the organizational goals. Technology is a very big component around solving the issues around employee sentiment, and it also will drive business results.”


The WorkJam study found that 80% of decision makers across industries and geographies want to leverage technology to improve the frontline experience, but struggle with prioritizing digital investments. In fact, 71% of all leaders surveyed worry that investment in technology that improves processes and efficiency is taking precedence over tech that ultimately creates a better frontline employee experience.


Within retail specifically, 73% of decision makers say digital transformation initiatives have not yet reached the frontline. Retailers need to provide the right digital tools to their frontline associates—not just to corporate and HQ staffs—to ensure workers are empowered, engaged and happy, and to improve operational efficiency and revenues.


Employee-led rejection of frontline work norms and increased churn have prompted retailers to focus on the frontline experience. Nearly three quarters (74%) of decision makers across industries said frontline employees are rejecting work conditions that went unchallenged just two years ago, and 80% said frontline turnover has increased, challenging companies to maintain standards and deliver a positive customer experience.


WorkJam is also partnering with the NRF Foundation RISE Up employee training and credentialing program to elevate frontline workers. WorkJam and NRF will enhance the RISE Up curriculum, which focuses on the skills and knowledge needed in critical frontline roles. WorkJam will support the development of new content featuring frontline workers highlighting the benefits, career opportunities and other aspects of their retail jobs that they find most rewarding.


“WorkJam’s overarching mission is to empower frontline employees with digital tools, training and technology that make their work and personal lives better,” said Kramer. “We’re confident that the new content developed under this partnership will help positively influence the academic and professional careers of frontline associates across the country.”


Developed in collaboration with over 20 retailers, the RISE Up program teaches employability skills for careers in the retail industry across areas such as customer service and sales, inventory and supply chain management, and retail business operations.

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