Even as the pace of the economy slows, there remain, on average, two open positions for every job seeker. As recently as April, there were more than 1.1 million unfilled retail jobs in the United States. Moreover, Gartner, Inc. predicts voluntary workplace turnover will jump nearly 20% this year, from a pre-pandemic annual average of 31.9 million employees quitting their jobs to 37.4 million quitting in 2022.
Retail has long struggled with employee retention, losing team members at a fast clip to higher wages, safety concerns and more flexibility. The pandemic brought those everyday retail realities to the forefront, as stores reopened with reduced-sized teams and, as a result, diminished service levels.
Like their frontline counterparts in the healthcare and hospitality industries, retail workers also recently faced unpredictable and longer working hours, uncertainty surrounding Omicron safety protocols, and unruly and aggressive customers — often sapping morale.
One University of Arizona study examined the morale of grocery workers in that state at the start of the pandemic. The research found that 22% of grocery workers in the Grand Canyon State reported symptoms of severe anxiety, while 16% reported symptoms of severe depression. Those levels dropped slightly at the beginning of 2021, but additional variants in 2022 may have easily caused anxiety levels to increase.
While retailers often raise salaries as a first step to addressing these issues and thwarting employee churn, their IT and human resources decision-makers also can look beyond the obvious measures to strengthen internal brands and elevate company cultures.
According to a poll conducted by Gallup, only 32% of U.S. employees say they’re engaged, and a large percentage feel they’re missing out on important company news. For retail team members, this lack of information can mean they’re not steering customers to the latest promotions, or they may not be seeing well-deserved kudos from their management teams.
For large and growing retailers, ensuring team connectedness is even more challenging as they become too large to manage the traditional walk-around culture environment. With these changing dynamics, maximizing digital tools is becoming increasingly important to make sure store managers and associates have access to the information they need to get their work done as efficiently as possible.
No Desks. No Problem.
For example, one global retailer recently experienced the proverbial growing pains of an expanding footprint and team member count of almost 300,000. The company’s growth was largely a result of its strong culture and employee tenure, with more than 60% of its U.S. team members having more than five years of service at the retail giant.
With continued company expansion, the retailer realized the need for more timely and consistent information delivery to its employees — most of whom don’t work at desks. To address some of the newfound employee engagement challenges, the retailer turned to digital signage as a cost-effective way to reach its workforce.
The digital signage solution provides a new channel to inform employees of any company policy changes and upcoming store activities. Digital signage also is an important HR tool, easily enabling the retailer to highlight expansion plans, share business goals and post career opportunities — all information in which employees expressed interest.
In addition to sharing store-specific activities or career opportunities, retailers can use digital signage to customize and publish relevant content to enhance in-store communications. Content can highlight a variety of topics, from compliance to diversity and inclusion, depending on the retailer’s priorities, tone and brand voice.
There’s an App for That
While digital signage offers a front-and-center communications channel, retailers also are turning to employee apps, which get key information out to team members whether they’re working in the store, in the warehouse or on the go. For geographically dispersed retailers, an employee app makes it possible to stay connected no matter the location or time zone of their team members.
Put the Frontline First
Many retailers have successfully built their brands and a loyal customer base by operating on the premise of the “customer is always right.” The pandemic highlighted an equally important mantra — putting your people first, especially as associates and the service they deliver are often the first and most important connection with customers.
There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to increasing frontline worker engagement or guaranteeing they won’t seek other opportunities. However, some retailers are rounding out their HR retention strategies to include simple technologies, like digital signage and employee apps to keep team members informed, engaged and, ideally, excited about the brands for which they work.
Scott Chao is Chief Growth Officer at Appspace, which provides a unified workplace communications and workplace management platform to global companies, including many in the retail sector. Before Appspace, he held leadership positions at DealerSocket, Stack Sports, and Cvent. He has an MBA from the University of Texas, Austin and dual degrees from Duke University.