Has retail tech set the bar for employee engagement? 

As the saying goes, 'necessity is the mother of invention' and there can be no greater example of this in action than the response to Covid from the retail industry.

Has retail tech set the bar for employee engagement? 

As the saying goes, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ and there can be no greater example of this in action than the response to Covid from the retail industry. Backed into the tricky corner of endless lockdowns, separated staff and weary customers, the financial impact took a huge toll on the industry and left many retail workers questioning whether this was the right industry for them.

At Fourth, we saw this reflected in our last whitepaper, Talent, convenience, and technology; The Retailer’s guide for 2022, where 94% of retail leaders signaled they were worried about staff shortages in their business. Many (38%) retailers surveyed believed this shortage was due to a swathe of employees making career changes out of retail, and this was mirrored in retail leaders’ top-cited challenges as they headed into 2022. Some  41% of retail leaders said that ‘retaining my best employees by maximising staff engagement would be their top challenge.

In response to this concern, many retailers will have chosen to action immediate tech-based plans to balance their employee engagement, satisfaction and financial well-being. These tech-based solutions can help retailers better plan and optimise their workforce and in turn future proof their success. So what are some of the solutions helping better engage employees?

Smart Scheduling and advanced availability

Technology has helped evolve the process of retail scheduling drastically over the past few years. What was previously an industry synonymous with sporadic shift work has become a lot more considerate and streamlined all due to a greater presence of technology in the industry. 

Modern scheduling technology is allowing retail workers to have greater transparency on their hours, ensuring they can better plan their finances, fit their lives around their work and ultimately reduce shift uncertainty. 

This evolution from the dated ‘rota’ means that not only can staff now proactively suggest times they are available/unavailable, but managers are also able to offer open shifts that employees can volunteer for. Likewise, with an accurate shape of the day, managers can also offer split shifts to cover busy periods, making it easier for retail leaders to deploy staff where they need them most operationally, and making it easier to accommodate employees’ work/life balance. The end result is scheduling that is more collaborative – avoiding confusion, keeping employees happy and reducing the time it takes for managers to finalise their schedules.

Earned-wage access schemes

With the ongoing increase in the cost of living, the financial stress that impacts employees in every sector is staggering. As it stands, mental ill-health in the retail sector is set to cost businesses between £777 and £989 per employee per year, with financial wellbeing representing a key part of the problem. By helping to relieve this financial hardship as best they can, employers can empower their shift-working staff with greater control over their finances, which in turn can have a positive impact on engagement and retention from a retail workforce.

Earned-wage access schemes, like our partner Wagestream, empower employees with the ability to track their earnings in real-time and give them the ability to access a percentage of their earned funds throughout the month. This means workers can choose when and how often they get paid and give instant access to their accumulated pay when they need funds urgently, rather than using riskier forms of financing like pay-day loans. They can also access practical advice and tips on managing their money with the ability to put money aside into their own private savings pot.

Communications apps

Many businesses still rely on outdated forms of communicating with their staff, opting for physical noticeboards and documents to share information on vital parts of their employees’ work including company policies, HR details and holiday requests. This shouldn’t be the case going forward, as there are in-market communications app solutions available such as Fourth Engage, that make it easier for retail leaders to engage with their employees through tools like news feeds, direct messages and more. 

In the retail industry, we’re seeing systems of communication implemented that allow employers to gain insights on who has seen what information, while helping staff easily stay up to date. Likewise, these tools allow employees to create their own in-app communication groups to discuss social plans, helping them to forge stronger team relationships and feel more involved in the business. These tools can be integrated into the wider workforce management solution, meaning retailers don’t have to force employees to engage with the app either, as it sits alongside other important information such as company policies, shifts, payslips and more.

These are just a few examples of where technology is helping optimise and engage retail workforces, and it’s those leaders who choose to invest in these solutions that will yield major benefits long-term through better insight, higher staff retention, greater engagement and more.  Empowering workers is not just a ‘nice-to-have’ anymore but essential to help counteract the increasing threat of staff shortages and diminishing employee engagement across businesses.

Sebastien Sepierre
Sebastien Sepierre

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