Blog Post
March 15, 2021

Building a more engaged and productive retail workforce

Retailers are building new digital experiences to address changing customer behaviour as the market continues to evolve. But as the world of work changes and business environments become more complex, employers will need to put their people first.


We’ve seen increased focus on experiential retail, the intersection of the online and offline world, and much more. These innovations are continuing to evolve, and so too are the skills needed to work with these technologies. When it comes to the employee experience, leading retailers are applying AI and ML in creative ways for onboarding, coverage heat mapping with prescriptive recommendations, voice assistants, identifying employee flight risk, benefits enrollment, team engagement and dynamics, and people intelligence to name a few.

Before the pandemic, retail and hospitality organisations were reinventing themselves to meet customers’ needs. Today, meeting those needs looks a lot different as demand for certain products and services continues to shift. McKinsey states that successful organisations are recognising the shifts in consumer behaviour, adjusting their offerings, and rebuilding their businesses to address the new world of retail.

However, while retailers are focusing on meeting their customers’ needs, they must not overlook the needs of their workforce. To thrive in the future, retailers need to better support their people as they adapt and evolve their skill sets, help drive a service culture, and build long-lasting customer relationships to ultimately drive revenue.

To accomplish this, retailers can focus on transforming the employee experience to become more harmonised and interconnected. From the moment an employee engages with the organisation during recruitment, to onboarding, learning and development, and beyond – employers will need to tune into what their employees need and deliver an intuitive and seamless experience – similar to the consumer experience.

Here, I detail three focus areas for retailers to consider as they build a more engaged and productive workforce that is better prepared to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.

1. Staying on top of compliance to better support the workforce

Compliance can help organisations reduce risk and avoid costly penalties – but it’s also table stakes for building a great employee experience. However, keeping on top of the evolving regulatory landscape is becoming increasingly difficult as retailers are likely to have disparate stores and locations across regions. For organisations that are reshaping their in-store and online customer experiences, the workforce is more dispersed than ever, which makes tracking and managing compliance even more onerous.

In the retail and hospitality industry, employers must manage compliance for a very diverse workforce consisting of part-time, full-time, seasonal, contract, and student workers. Compliance also spans multiple areas of the business, including fiscal governance, operational policies, labour laws, hours and wage, fairness and predictability, and more.

The pandemic has put even greater pressure on organisations to comply with various legislation which can be different across regions. We’ll continue to see extended, expanded, and brand new government and regional COVID-19 response legislation, including further changes to furlough, universal tax credits and leave entitlements specifically for employee needs related to COVID-19.

single solution across workforce management, pay, and HR admin can help retailers stay on top of changing legislation so they can schedule their workforce in adherence to jurisdictional legislation, while also paying them accurately and on time. This type of technology can also help retailers lessen reliance on hard-to-understand customised processes at the regional level so they can focus on building a better experience for both their people and their customers.

2. New innovations to support better employee well-being

Happy employees equal happy customers. Research shows that a five percent increase in employee engagement leads to a three percent jump in sales growth. However, with the on-going health crisis, the workforce is facing constant change and uncertainty, which can put additional strain on employees both mentally and physically. During times of disruption, the workforce is likely experiencing a wide range of emotions, including concerns about their health, the pressure to care for family members, anxiety over job and financial security, and stress due to an upheaval of normality. Both personal and work lives are changing as everyday routines are uprooted, which directly impacts employees’ ability to bring the best version of themselves to work.

Retail and hospitality organisations can address workforce needs by investing in innovative technologies to better care for their employees. For example, providing the workforce with self-service access that focuses on what their people need such as: visibility and access to additional hours from other locations and brands, real-time communication with managers and co-workers, and greater pay clarity. Some are also providing AI and ML assistance during the benefits enrollment process, to detect shift coverage opportunities, and to identify core value and communication style preferences across their teams.

Additionally, employers can provide their workforce with virtual assistant technology to provide a more seamless experience when employees are on-the-go. This technology can help employees swap shifts to take care of a family emergency, for example, right from their mobile phone. These solutions can help employees better manage their work life, promoting better well-being.

 3. A reimagined investment in learning and development

Technology needs are consistently emerging as retailers pivot to the changes in market conditions and customer needs. The COVID-19 pandemic is an indicator of how retailers are leveraging technology to survive and adjust strategies in response to the ever-evolving circumstances. With the pace of change, employees may find it difficult to keep up.

As well, retailers will also need to address a common misconception within the sector that high turnover rates are inevitable. Because of this, employees often enter the workforce with the mindset that it’s a temporary gig, and they won’t be able to build a career out of it. Breaking through this common misconception is critical, especially during uncertain times when the workforce is looking for more security. Employers will need to double down on investing in their people – and that starts with providing meaningful learning opportunities.

If we’ve learned anything from the most recent disruption, talent can be redeployed quickly and effectively with the right systems in place. Learning platforms can help support that shift, providing relevant training and bite-sized learning as employees develop new skills. The next wave of workforce learning tech will focus in on helping employees discover materials that are personalised and relevant – similar to the consumer shopping experience. Additionally, when retailers invest in training their workforce on digital and e-commerce skills, it will not only help build employees’ expertise but also boost confidence so they can deliver the best customer experience.

Employers can also define clear career paths for employees by tying skills development with succession planning and task management. Creating career paths will also help managers better understand how they can support their team in reaching their goals, and provides them with a roadmap so they can see opportunity to grow within the organisation.

Related: The retail industry today, tomorrow, and beyond: Preparing for the future of work

Moving forward, employers must focus on investing in their people, starting with having the right systems and culture in place to address employee needs. Staying on top of changes in compliance and legislation, supporting employee well-being, and providing learning and development opportunities will help build true advocates for the employer brand today so retailers can thrive in the future.


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