Dec 15, 2021

How To Prepare And Support Frontline Retail Workers Amid Supply Chain Chaos

By Steven Kramer, WorkJam CEO and Co-Founder, Forbes Business Council 

From the record-high number of cargo ships stuck off the California coast to nationwide labor shortages, bottlenecks in the supply chain are creating chaos for retailers this holiday shopping season.

The supply chain havoc that has hampered retailers throughout the pandemic doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. In addition to delayed shipments, increased freight prices and labor shortages, demand for goods has substantially increased as consumers have shifted their spending from services to goods during the pandemic. More consumers, compared to 2020, are also completing their holiday shopping in person, according to a report by Mintel.

Nearly 90% of retailers are concerned about burnout and fatigue among their frontline workers this holiday season. My company’s platform provides digital productivity solutions for frontline workers. Through this experience, I’ve seen that employers need to equip their frontline workers with the right tools and support to maintain operational efficiencies and avoid burnout.

Three Ways To Set Your Frontline Workers Up For Success This Holiday Season

With freight prices soaring, delayed orders and holiday spending expected to increase by up to 9% this year, it’s safe to say this holiday season could be more hectic than usual. In an industry with high turnover and burnout, it’s crucial to not only provide adequate training and tools but also show employees you value their work and care about their well-being.

Let’s take a closer look at how you can create an efficient work environment and ensure your frontline employees are prepared to handle in-store operations.

1. Streamline task management and training. It can be difficult to assign a task to the right person with the proper knowledge to complete it, especially during the hustle and bustle of the holiday shopping season. With seasonal workers in the picture, you risk wasting resources by assigning a worker to a task they aren’t equipped or trained for. This increases the risk of poor customer experiences (e.g., if a clothing rack is disorganized, a shopper may grow frustrated and leave). The problem underscores the need for task management and training to coexist.

To help, you can consider establishing a digital workplace that provides training resources and task management for employees to access. (Full disclosure: My company provides these solutions, as do others.) For example, if an employee is setting up a display, they could watch a video that contains details about how to complete the task. You could also break down assignments into multiple subtasks to enable more accurate progress updates, which helps ensure no task is ignored or forgotten.

As you do this, however, you need to rethink how you deliver your content to the field. Bite-sized and more interactive content is more effective and better understood. While this could sound daunting, it doesn’t have to be if you have the right mindset and direction and listen to the field for feedback. The voice of the employee is critical.

2. Facilitate internal communication. Create a space for top-down and frontline-up communication. This is critical to avoid ambiguities and provide employees with a way to speak directly to management. Giving your workers a voice can make them feel valued (which can also help prevent burnout), as well as create a space for internal dialogue. For example, maybe an employee discovered a more efficient way to assist customers with returns. Or, maybe a new employee has a question about handling an upset shopper who can’t find a back-ordered item.

Additionally, establish a single communication channel to help keep employees informed without having to play a game of telephone. You can distribute critical information like protocol updates, technology failures or staff changes that may affect employees’ shifts.

3. Address Covid-19 concerns. Worries about Covid-19 remain top of mind for many frontline workers. Give employees clear guidance around Covid-19 protocols, and address any concerns upfront. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides guidelines for retail workers that cover industry-specific ways employers can protect their employees.

In addition to displaying these guidelines in the workplace, you should cover Covid-19 protocols in your regular workplace training and make yourself available to answer any questions. Additionally, encourage any employees exhibiting symptoms to stay home and rest, and regularly review best hygiene practices.

Attract and retain employees by investing in their well-being.

As the holiday shopping season and supply chain chaos continues, no employer can afford employee burnout. You need to prioritize the welfare of your frontline workers and lay the foundation for an efficient workplace. Providing the right support will not only help attract and retain employees but also help maintain smoother in-store operations.

Forbes Business Council

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