Retail staff engagement and happiness problem – can technology help?

Retail has a problem when it comes to retaining, recruiting and motivating staff.

Only two retailers – Oliver Bonas and Schuh – have been named among the 50 best companies to work for in the UK, according to employer review site Glassdoor’s Best Workplaces 2022 survey.

The four retailers that were in the index in 2021 – Greggs, Majestic Wine, The Body Shop and Waitrose – do not feature this year, with employee and ex-employee reviews more favorable elsewhere.

ServiceNow, AND Digital, and Salesforce were the top three companies respectively, and Meta, Microsoft, and Google all made the top 20, highlighting the popularity (and, apparently, positive employee engagement) of the tech and digital industries.

The Glassdoor survey is just one clue, of course, but another company that tracks workplace wellbeing suggests that retail and hospitality are among the most unhappy employees. WorkL, the employee happiness monitor set up by former Waitrose chief executive Mark Price, points to instilling pride and well-being as the two areas where retail staff rank poorly on their employer and where there is a lot of room for improvement.

Data from WorkL shows that in the welfare ranking, only the chemical and mining industries fall below retail. It also suggests that the retail industry’s happiness has plummeted during the pandemic, perhaps unsurprisingly given the major challenges it has faced operating on what is effectively the “front line” of Covid. over the past 23 months.

Speaking at the Retail Trust Leaders’ Summit last November, Price said: “None of us want to have an anxious, depressed workforce that poses a high risk to wellbeing.”

He added that a happier workforce improves business performance. And, according to conversations and presentations at the Retail Trust event, happiness at work happens when employees enjoy flexibility and when companies strive to create a suitable work environment by talking openly to their employees.

Wellness strategies are all the rage, and it seems retailers are increasingly recognizing that they have a duty of care to support whatever staff are going through. Price suggested it was wise for retailers to be proactive here, arguing that a ‘battle for labour’ is set to unfold in the coming year – indeed several retailers have reported difficulties recruitment before the recent peak season.

Much of the positive work to support staff well-being and development is now done through the use of new technologies or digital platforms.

Asda joins forces with Glassdoor’s number one

UK grocer Asda has deployed Glassdoor’s number one service, ServiceNow, to access its cloud-based software, which is used to automate routine work tasks. ServiceNow’s mantra is that it “makes work, work better for people”, and Asda is looking to implement the technology as part of its broader digital transformation.

The idea is that by putting tools in place to make staff members happy, it will have a positive impact on customer service.

The Now Platform is set to become the central place for Asda’s 140,000 employees, including store and office colleagues, to process queries, ask questions and retrieve information. Staff would be able to expedite the resolution of requests to improve their productivity.

Store employees will be able to access the system via mobile devices on the shop floor, while administrative colleagues will use laptops in the office.

As part of the helpdesk, ServiceNow promises to make it easier for Asda staff to navigate complex processes to get the information they need in their preferred channels, as well as align with ITIL standards to streamline and manage access and availability of services and fulfill requests.

Carl Dawson, chief information officer at Asda, said: “The UK retail sector has faced a number of challenges in recent years, including maintaining deliveries and stocking shelves for the pandemic, and we needed to innovate to maintain a competitive advantage. in a rapidly changing world.

He also suggests that the new technology will allow Asda “to launch new ideas and invest in the digital transformation of the whole company”, which will accelerate innovation in stores and improve the way the customer interacts with the retailer.

Jordi Ferrer, vice president and general manager of ServiceNow UK and Ireland, said his company will provide the tools “to increase innovation and improve the customer experience while increasing customer engagement and efficiency. employees”.

“It’s a great demonstration of how Asda believes in its people and their ability by investing in tools to help them work better and more efficiently,” he added.

Carpetright implements new systems

Since the start of the year, flooring retailer Carpetright has announced the launch of several internal tools aimed at supporting its workforce.

Following the launch of its careers website in January, which relies heavily on what existing staff are saying about the business to promote new roles and careers at the retailer, Carpetright followed up in February by unveiling a new platform. form of internal communication through its domain and a dedicated learning platform for the workforce.

Known as Interact, supported by Interact Software, the communications tool aims to streamline employee communications, as well as become a “one-stop-shop” for colleagues to find information and connect to useful websites to support their work. The platform contains daily updates and information, including content related to positive mental wellbeing.

Carpetright said the software will help the retailer develop learning plans, conduct research and enable each of its departments to create shareable content.

A virtual Glo Learn area sits within the wider platform, and after what Carpetright described as 10 months of development, this service is now making it possible to create bespoke learning for staff. The training is “fun and interactive”, depending on the business, and modernizes the development process for employees.

Schuh in the zone

Following Schuh’s recently announced Glassdoor top 50 ranking, a spokesperson for the retailer said “employee engagement is paramount” to the company.

“We’ve added new benefits to our rewards platform and supplemented our existing wellness program with other services to provide additional support for our staff and their families,” they noted.

“During periods of confinement, we have organized weekly online events to stay in touch with our employees and maintain a pleasant working environment. We have adapted our working methods to be able to recruit and onboard new members of the Schuh family remotely, and we continue to provide opportunities to learn and grow.

The spokesperson added: “Training is an important part of what we do at Schuh. We recognize the importance of investing time in our employees from day one and throughout their career with us.

Cultural change

Whether it’s evolving into a hybrid work environment, moving to a four-day work week, truly tackling diversity and inclusion in the workplace, using new technologies to support staff training or shine a light on employee well-being more generally, a culture shift is needed. .

It was a key message from the Retail Trust event late last year, with Price – who was chief executive of Waitrose between 2007 and 2016 – describing the culture as “the sediment of past dealings”, adding that it is “very difficult to change a culture”.

Management must live its values, he said, and demonstrate “day in and day out” that it believes in the well-being of its workforce or, for example, in the flexible working practices it deploys. . They can’t just say it, they have to show it.

Andrew Jurd, head of retail human resources at Next and a panelist at the same event, said flexibility is “intrinsically” built into the way Next manages its teams and contract workers, but acknowledged that there are big challenges in enabling managers to be more flexible. work possibilities.

“The flexibility is decreasing because the perception is ‘We need you here all the time,'” he noted.

“We have to focus on the management level – I think it’s a matter of fear. We have to go through [working from home] an epiphany with the management structures and start saying, “Actually, it can work”.

Jurd revealed Next was exploring how a four-day week-style setup might work for some staff members. There is also more flexibility now, for example allowing zone meetings to be held from home, where appropriate, to reduce time spent in the office and allow staff to fit these catch-ups more neatly into their day.

The advent of technology, including online video conferencing platforms, for example, is enabling such an evolution – and in many ways it is one of the real positive stories of the pandemic’s impact on the world. work.

But whether or not retailers embrace technology to help improve the lives of staff, Price says the priority for fostering workplace happiness centers on one particular relationship.

“The most important thing that determines the mental, the physical [and] financial well-being at work and your propensity to leave is your relationship with your line manager – it’s absolutely critical,” he explained, citing data tracked by WorkL.

“If there’s one really big lesson to be learned, it’s to equip line managers to help people have a better experience in their working lives – it’s the single most important thing you can do. .”

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