Efficiency and Engagement: The Great Balancing Act of Workforce Tech

71% of business leaders worry that their workforce tech investments will focus more on operations than employee engagement. Forrester research reveals how these organizations are thinking about employee experience (EX) in 2023.

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Employee experience (EX) has been a hot topic since the start of the pandemic, but there is still a clear divide between organizations that have invested in a comprehensive strategy and those that have not.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of retailers with mature EX strategies achieve double-digit revenue growth year over year, compared to only 49% of retailers with low-maturity EX strategies, according to Forrester research commissioned by WorkJam. Yet 73% of retail decision-makers across North America, Europe, Asia and Australia said that digital transformation initiatives have not yet reached the frontline.

Many business leaders, and retailers specifically, plan to increase their investment in digital technology for the frontline. However, employee shortages are forcing many organizations to prioritize capabilities that support operating efficiency and store performance over employee engagement and loyalty.

“We’ve been involved in a lot more strategic conversations focused on ways retailers can invest in technology to achieve their business outcomes,” said Steven Kramer, CEO of WorkJam in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “This aligns with our survey results in which organizations dug into a real need to invest in their workforce.”

The survey of 502 executives was designed to assess the challenges and priorities of executives charged with making decisions regarding employee scheduling, communication, task management and learning. These executives represent organizations across different industries, from retail to hospitality, restaurants, travel, manufacturing and healthcare. Overall, 80% of survey respondents said frontline turnover has increased, with 63% of retailers saying they are short on frontline staff.

The majority (74%) of decision-makers across industries believe that turnover is accelerating because frontline workers are rejecting work conditions that went unchallenged previously. Now, the onus is on business leaders to invest in solutions and systems that not only pick up the operational slack but also allow current employees to have a positive experience with their employers and customers.  

“A recession and a labor shortage have never happened at the same time,” Kramer explained. “A lot of companies are looking to do more with less via productivity tools like task management, communication tools, etc. And on the scheduling side, they’re trying to figure out how to take advantage of the workforce in ways that they’re not right now – like sharing labor across locations and allowing employees to access self-service tools like swapping shifts.”

However, business leaders are clearly struggling to identify and prioritize capabilities that strike the balance between efficiency and engagement. Up to 80% of leaders say they want to use technology to improve the frontline experience, but 71% worry that investing in tech to improve processes and efficiency will take priority over tech that improves the employee experience. Among retail respondents, only 8% said they plan to invest specifically in improving the employee experience over the next 12 months.

3 Things the Workforce Wants in an App

The survey uncovered some key takeaways for business leaders aiming to strike the right balance between efficiency and engagement:

1. Make the frontline experience a strategic priority: Although 92% of all survey respondents said the frontline experience was important to achieving their organizational goals over the next year, only 36% ranked it as one of their top three operational goals. A mere 9% ranked it as their top goal for 2023. Organizational leaders should develop top-level goals that reflect improving company culture and frontline experiences. These goals should then guide tactical investments, including new systems and solutions.

“Respondents’ top three priorities for the year are operational efficiency, higher profits and higher revenue,” Kramer said. “Then, the next layer encompasses employee experience and people investments. There’s this misperception in the industry that one cuts into the other, but there’s a correlation between employee experience and achieving your business outcomes.”

2. Embrace (or build) an “experiential super app”: Nearly nine in 10 (87%) of decision-makers noted that frontline employees expect more flexibility in their scheduling than they did two years ago. While Forrester found that these capabilities were important, surveys revealed that frontline employees also sought solutions that support communication and professional development.

Kramer noted that the true key to employee engagement and empowerment is investing in a “super app” that provides easy access to technical capabilities as well as community-building features such as gamification, collaboration and feedback collection. 


“Without technology like this, store employees only get access to what’s between their four walls: the people they work with and what the manager tells them,” Kramer noted. “But with this technology, you’re able to see the organization, what’s happening in other stores and have bigger conversations around the values of the company. You also are able to have a voice that goes back to the head office around what’s working and what’s not.”

3. Remove complexities and information silos: Nearly two-thirds (62%) of executives said they currently use between four and six different frontline employee applications. Although these tools were inherently designed to improve employee efficiency and performance, their disconnects make finding information and completing tasks more complicated for employees.

“The solution is to pull together an experience for employees that brings scheduling, task management and other capabilities together,” Kramer advised. “The companies that have invested in these areas and in a more experiential platform for employees have been able to drive tangible results for the business.”

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