Retail workers call for better HR, research finds

Retail employees are seeking better workplace technology solutions to manage their availability, holiday and pay, according to market research by Fourth.

When asked about the ways their company communicates essential information with them, only 45% said that their business uses a HR platform. Others said they receive information through written (37%) and/or verbal (34%) communication, meaning retail leaders will have little understanding of if and how many employees have taken in key information if they rely solely on these methods rather than a HR platform, creating ambiguity and confusion for staff.

The research comes as part of Fourth’s latest whitepaper, ‘Cost of living: Supporting your retail workforce as the crisis deepens’, which explores how employee sentiment is changing due to the cost of living crisis and what that means for retailers, the main challenges for retail businesses in 2022, and what retail leaders can do to support, engage, and retain their people.

Half of workers still receive shift rotas through WhatsApp, paper and whiteboards

The data shows that less than half of retail workers (44%) receive their shift rotas via digital and user-friendly routes, such as a HR platform or mobile app. A further 18% say their shift rotas are digital but basic (for example a WhatsApp group), while another third (31%) receive shift rotas through analogue means, such as paper or whiteboard rotas.

When it comes to managing their shifts, 68% of retail employees say they’d benefit from being able to flag availability in advance via a HR/scheduling portal. A further third (34%) also say the ability to see, book and approve holidays through a HR platform would help with people retention.

Engagement becoming more vital as retail worker demographics shift

The demand comes as the retail industry competes to attract and retain talent following sweeping industry changes during the pandemic. The research found that almost all (99%) retail leaders are seeing an increase in older workers returning to retail jobs or starting retail jobs for the first time since the pandemic.

Likewise, most people have entered the retail workforce by transitioning from another profession (24%), or because it is the only job they have skills for (15%), they need a job with flexibility around childcare (14%), or it is their first job (12%).

This suggests a changing make-up of the retail workforce, and retail employees are keen to learn from their diverse peers. Almost half of retail workers (46%) want to learn new skills from their millennial colleagues (26 to 41-year-olds), while just over four-in-ten (43%) are looking to learn from Generation X (42 to 57-year-olds).

The finding further emphasises the need for retail leaders to implement workforce technology tools that enable better communication and collaboration, whilst catering for all levels of age and digital confidence.

Responding to this latest data, Sebastien Sepierre, Managing Director – EMEA, Fourth, said: “Labour forecasting is always a challenge for retailers, but can hugely impact staff morale. Shift scheduling can be quickly disrupted by events, staff illnesses, and annual leave, meaning managers may have to change rotas frequently and at the last minute. This creates instability in employees’ schedules, increasing their frustration and creating poor work-life balance, and in turn leading to high staff turnover.

“Having accurate forecasting, easy-to-use scheduling tools and scheduling apps allow managers to publish schedules ahead of time with real-time communication and collaboration, supported by a mobile scheduling app allowing employees to swap shifts, apply for open shifts, and ultimately reduce challenges while improving the employee experience.

“At a time where employee engagement and retention is so vital in retail, industry leaders must look at how they can improve their workplace communication, while also ensuring those digital avenues are accessible for all ages and demographics.”