Just like that, the frenetic holiday shopping season has come to an end, though returns are still peaking. In the thick of holiday shopping, both brick-and-mortar and online retailers require all hands on deck. Online or in-store, their customers expect to find staff who are available, willing, and able to help them.
Of course, retailers are dependent on having enough great staff year-round. Brick and mortar stores increasingly compete on their ability to provide a great experience in-store. Online purveyors likewise focus on experience, but also up the ante with speedy delivery. Unfortunately, that customer experience is hard to deliver when managers find themselves shorthanded due to employee absenteeism and turnover.
According to our global retail research, store managers understand that employees who are happier with their work conditions — especially when it comes to flexibility — are more likely to cover their shifts and less likely to be no-shows or leave for greener pastures. They understand they need to treat their employees with trust and support their need for flexibility.
When absence strikes and co-workers on duty have to pick up the slack, nobody’s happy. According to the research, 47% of retail managers believe that absenteeism has a significant impact on customer satisfaction while 42% believe that it negatively impacts their store revenue. We also found that more than half of retailers worldwide (52%) see a direct correlation between poor employee engagement and increased staff turnover. Retailers worldwide estimated that 7% of labor hours are scheduled but not worked, and many view unplanned absence as one of their organization’s most difficult and time-consuming issues to manage.
The solution? Flexibility — starting with managers and reinforced with employee technology. Research reveals work flexibility as one of the top requests of workers across the globe. Our survey found retailers recognize that a greater focus on work-life balance (62%) and workforce scheduling technology (59%) would have a positive impact on productivity. Yet, nearly half of all retailers (43%) are not using an automated solution to manage individual work preferences and availability.
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One effective way to enable retail workers to manage their work life balance is to allow shift swapping and to make the process of doing so easy. One-third of retail managers (34%) say managing shift-swap requests is one of the biggest workforce management challenges they face. Just one in four retailers allow shift swaps without manager approval, and only 23% enable self-service shift swapping on a mobile device. Retailers remain optimistically open to change: Many expect that an innovative shift-swapping solution would have a positive impact on employee and store productivity (67% and 65%, respectively), work-life balance (64%), staff motivation (58%), morale (55%), turnover (53%), and customer experience (50%).
Managers desiring to balance workers’ needs for flexibility with the need to hit objectives might consider adopting these three people-centric strategies to ensure they have the right person, in the right place, at the right time throughout the year:
- Make taking time off easy — Establish a formal (ideally written) policy regarding time off requests and execute that policy consistently to ensure workers trust that the process is fair. Beyond that, actually provide workers with paid time off — to refresh themselves and to help avoid absence abuses — and encourage workers to take the time they want and need.
- Create personalized schedules — Collaborate with workers when setting their schedules so that their shift preferences are accommodated as much as possible. Take advantage of automated scheduling and analytics tools to ensure that managers have visibility into worker availability and can plan for shift coverage. And don’t forget to provide workers with accrual information and make it easy for them to check their time, request shift changes, and swap shifts with coworkers — bonus points if they can do so from their own phones.
- Use technology to staff smartly — Seek insight into how to address staffing coverage during uber-busy periods like Black Friday by looking at historical trends of labor drivers, schedule preferences, and booked vacation time. Doing this requires discipline and analysis, but once the models are in place, managers can easily re-run them with little additional effort to help make intelligent and data-backed staffing decisions in real time.