Could Mobile Technology Be the Answer to Retail’s Engagement Crisis?

There’s little that’s more important for HR strategy than addressing low levels of employee engagement. Engagement — or an employee’s emotional commitment to a company — has proven links to everything that matters from a human resources perspective, from productivity and retention, to work culture, to ultimately a significant financial impact on an organization’s bottom line.

Yet engagement has been notoriously difficult for HR to manage and effectively influence over the long-term. A big part of the problem is related to measurement: It’s hard to accurately gauge an organization’s current level of engagement, and even more tricky to determine when engagement rises or falls over time. That’s because the measurement tools that HR has traditionally used to measure how employees feel about their company and job — for example, paper-based questionnaires, feedback forms, and performance reviews — are limited in how much engagement-related insight they offer. These incomplete, old-school types of measurements simply don’t offer a look inside the day-to-day experience and performance of individual staff members and departments.

Measurement isn’t the only problem that HR and business leaders must address when it comes to the complex issue of how to boost engagement company-wide. They also require understanding why employees lose interest in their work and lack passion for their organization. Firms with a high proportion of non-desk workers – from frontline staff on the shop floor to logistics workers – have added challenges in keeping everyone within the company’s network in the loop. Once workers feel disconnected, with no platform for give-and-take with HR and management, they can quickly become disengaged.

True engagement requires reliable, consistent two-way communication between an organization and staff members, regardless of their role or location.

Retail’s high rate of disengagement

With one of the highest rates of disengagement of all industries, both in the US and UK, the retail sector is in the grips of an engagement crisis. Quantum Workplace found that over one-third of US retail employees — nearly 35% — are disengaged at work, while 77% of UK retail employees have become disengaged with the brand values of their company, according to Engage For Success.

When we look closely at the retail industry, we see that distributed workforces are common, complicating internal communication. Gallup reported that the percentage of retail workers who spend at least part of their time working remotely has reached 30%. This makes it more likely that those working offsite may feel cut off from needed information and resources, which can hurt engagement and morale.

In a sector like this, with engagement levels at crisis point, it becomes even more critical for HR to effectively address this issue. Why? In a word, it comes down to turnover: Paired with its high disengagement, retail has (not surprisingly) been found to have one of the highest turnover rates of any industry, with a turnover rate of 65% for hourly retail workers. This high level of employee churn presents ongoing challenges in attracting and retaining talent. What’s more, research shows that highly engaged employees are much more productive employees. One study found companies with highly engaged employees had a 19.2% growth in operating income over a 12-month period. A Gallup study showed that engaged companies outperform others in productivity by 21% and profitability by 22%,

Tech can help

So what’s the answer for HR to overcome these engagement challenges? Whether in retail or other industries, if you want to boost engagement levels and be able to measure them over time, you need the right tools. In this case, the best tools for the job are today’s mobile technologies, which ensure that remote and distributed workers need not rely on sporadic email updates or quickly outdated message boards to get the updates they need.

Other internal communications solutions such as intranets offer only limited capabilities for static posting of information. They are not designed for feedback and can quickly become overloaded. Enterprise social networks (ESN) or messaging services are similarly incomplete solutions in that they can’t be measured and tend to be peer-to-peer, not two-way communication with management. In comparison, mobile engagement applications can reach the entire workforce, while also facilitating feedback and generating engagement-related insights and reports that HR can use to guide cultural changes when needed. What’s more, integrated mobile engagement solutions aren’t just from one worker to another — they also help the organization communicate with workers and vice-versa from any location.

The beauty of a mobile engagement platform from an HR perspective is that it provides a seamless way to give those working off-site or in branch locations a voice so that they remain engaged in the organization alongside headquarters workers.

Features to consider

When comparing employee engagement platforms, here are some features to look for:

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  • The ability to recognize and reward employees via social media interactivity.
  • An online library where all employees can easily access key company documents, training manuals, and on-boarding documents.
  • Calendar to promote company events online so that employees around the company know what’s planned.
  • Directory services to access employee profiles and contact information.
  • Gamification options for employees that give the organization honest feedback and corporate learning through quizzes, surveys, and polling.
  • Connection to HR and other managers, offering employees the ability to suggest ideas for innovation and improvement.
  • Measurement tools to help HR make sense of gathered data to increase engagement.

The measurement feature is particularly critical. The value here is in providing a 360-degree view of individual performance, specific departments, and teams, giving HR engagement-related insights as well as suggestions for improving engagement. A strong mobile engagement platform can help HR effectively measure interaction with specific content and capture employee feedback on organizational messages and initiatives. These platforms can also simplify management and provide ongoing analysis opportunities for survey responses and data insights.

Connecting all workers

Driving employee engagement across distributed workforces is a complex problem to manage, but mobile technology can go a long way in assisting HR in many key areas that can boost engagement. Whether you need a way to give employees a voice, offer recognition opportunities, improve co-worker collaboration, or bridge the gap between the organization and employees by building an emotional connection, mobile tools can offer these benefits while supporting productivity and providing measurement tools within the platform.

Mobile technology is the only tool that currently offers a single-point solution to respond to this variety of needs. Engagement technology is nothing short of HR’s secret weapon. As these platforms help workers become more connected to their organization, the resulting increased engagement will help enhance their performance and increase long-term retention — a win-win no matter how you look at it.

Geraldine Osman is CMO of StaffConnect, an early stage startup in the emerging new market of mobile employee engagement solutions. She is a strategic marketing leader, with a strong focus on creating performance driven cultures, building outstanding marketing teams and driving early traction and fast growth. She has held global leadership positions in both the UK and US and has been responsible for the successful and significant global expansion of both public and startup technology brands.

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