Operations Insights
March 16, 2022

Improving hourly associates’ work-life balance with better scheduling

Erratic scheduling gives associates less control, which leads to poor engagement, high retail turnover rates, and ultimately detracts from customer experience. Our SVP Retail Strategy and Execution John Orr discusses three ways employers can improve work-life balance and retail turnover rates through scheduling.

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When retailers improve the balance between their business’ demands and their associate experience, employee engagement, happiness and productivity increase. These are the left and right hands of any retail operation.

But amid The Great Resignation, this hasn’t been easy for organizations. Randstad 2022 Talent Trends reports 25% of business leaders said their profits dropped as a direct result of labor issues. The same respondents said they also were forced to put customer service on the back burner as well.

Retail turnover rates are above 60% and outpacing the average employee turnover rate in other U.S. industries, says TotalRetail.

Difficulty attracting and retaining talent directly impacts retailers’ ability to keep operations running. Retailers need to continue investing in their workforces and examining the employee experience as strategically as they do customer experience.

How scheduling affects turnover

Few aspects of the hourly associate’s experience yield greater benefits than improving scheduling — the backbone of their work-life balance. Happier associates will share that positive attitude and engagement whenever they interact with customers. The experience for both gets better as associates’ jobs complement their work-life balance. Retention, even in high-turnover industries, gets better, too.

But how do employers put this into practice? It starts with focusing more on providing tools and solutions for associates to easily manage their time and schedules, providing them with added flexibility.

Not only do these tools help to improve the employer-associate relationship, but they also benefit customers. Having more engaged associates translates to a better customer experience and an increase in overall performance due to higher productivity. A Gallup meta-analysis found a strong correlation between engagement and company performance. Companies operating in the top quartile in terms of employee engagement outperformed bottom-quartile units by 10% on customer ratings, 22% in profitability, and 21% in productivity.

Here are three ways employers can improve work-life balance for hourly associates through scheduling.

1. Plan for labor to reduce unpredictable hours

Erratic scheduling and unpredictable hours can demoralize staff, detract from customers’ experience, and do damage to retail brands previously known for treating their workforce well. “Clopening,” for instance – whereby associates must open a store the next morning after closing the previous evening – can erode goodwill fast, as do other unpredictable scheduling practices.

This disruptive scheduling style makes it difficult for associates to have work–life balance. Retention and associate morale decreases. Engagement plummets. Recruiting suffers. The dynamic plays out in any industry invested heavily in customer-facing hourly staff.

For scheduling to be successful from both an associate and customer experience perspective, managers and associates need better communication, information, and insights to plan more accurately. Having accurate visibility of factors like location, historical sales, seasonality, expected customer traffic, and associate skills and availability affect your retail operation takes the burden off managers and associates to create the most optimized schedule possible without sporadic adjustments.

For example, if there’s a weekend where you’ll be short on people, or perhaps it’s a busy day versus a quiet one, you can plan more confidently to avoid last minute changes.

Better labor spend optimization can also help plan for lulls in in-store work and allow managers to staff for increased work from the digital store channel for a unified commerce system. Poor planning places the burden on associates to fill the gaps (clopening, call-ins, call-offs, and inconsistent rewards, etc.).

2. Schedule with productivity and collaboration in mind

Research from the Corporate Executive Board (which represents 80% of the Fortune 500 companies) found that associates who believe they have a good work-life balance work 21% harder than those who don’t, after researching 50,000 global workers.

While it’s true that associates who consistently work overtime will experience decreased productivity and burnout, underused associates also will become disengaged and look for work elsewhere. Both scenarios result in reduced productivity and higher higher turnover rates.

How can managers address this? Make sure the right people are doing the right things at the right time. One way to do this is through task management. Not only do you get a clear understanding of which skills are required for certain tasks within your operation, but you can assign them to the most qualified people on your team. Insights gained from task management – such as tracking time to complete certain tasks – also help managers to plan and schedule appropriately, and understand which associates are most productive in the areas of the business.

3. Give associates more control over their schedules

Relying on manual or paper-based systems creates headaches and roadblocks for everyone. On the employer side, it hinders their ability to optimize scheduling and achieve operational excellence. From an associate perspective, today’s workers expect regular communication and interactive work environments through mobile self-service right on their phone.

Associates want visibility into the hours they’ve worked, recorded time away and effective dated availability, and the work that they’re scheduled for. They don’t like unpredictable systems that lack these capabilities that we’ve come to expect with workforce management software.

Associate engagement is an important part of the company culture and the systems in place should reinforce the organization’s commitment to creating a respectful associate experience. Dispirited associates don’t feel cared for by their employer and eventually quit. In the time they do stick around, their negative feelings can harm service, performance, and brand equity in the markets they serve. The customer’s experience declines. Profits follow.

Mobile or on-the-go technology not only empowers managers but associates as well. IBM found organizations that use digital tools to connect an untethered workforce see a 67%increase in productivity and 43%revenue growth as a result.

Connected teams work better together. Managers can more easily collaborate and communicate with associates, while associates can easily switch shifts, see upcoming schedules, communicate about time-off requests, and receive feedback and messages from their managers. Empowered associates are more engaged, more productive, and, simply, happier. Mobile-first is no longer a “nice to have”, it’s an expectation from both employees and consumers.

Related: How to get your workforce on board with going mobile

Organizations that embrace new strategies and technology innovations will have the flexibility required to run a dynamic retail operation, meet the demands of customer service, and accommodate the skills and desires of associates. A commitment to associate engagement and work-life balance demands a commitment to investing in the systems and environments that support it. Scheduling becomes fair, equitable, and predictable. Associates’ day-to-day work life gets better. Job satisfaction increases, and so does productivity, engagement, and loyalty. More importantly, customers notice.

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