CSN EXCLUSIVE: Retail Employees Seek Better Communication & Flexibility

Workforce management evolves with changing labor demands.
Melissa Kress
An employee working the counter at a convenience store

NATIONAL REPORT — As the cost of goods and services continues to strain consumers' wallets, the labor challenges many convenience store operators faced are easing up to a degree as more Americans head back to — or remain in — the workforce. 

However, that doesn't mean retailers do not have to work to retain their employees. 

In the third edition of its "Future of Retail Workforce Study," Lotis Blue Consulting examined ways that the current macroeconomic environment has influenced retention trends for the retail workforce; factors that are becoming more important to employee retention and loyalty; how motivations for leaving or staying in a job are changing over time; and how factors driving quit-and-stay decisions differ by workforce characteristics and retail segment.

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"Labor dynamics in retail have changed dramatically in the last 12 months with a tightening of the job market and stabilizing sales, coinciding with major attitude shifts toward work and employers," noted Aaron Sorensen, Lotis Blue Consulting partner and co-author of the third edition of the study.

"Even with changing labor conditions and issues, the data is comprehensive enough to predict an employee's decision to stay or leave an employer with 87% accuracy. And in order to hold onto valued employees, we've observed that retailers must simultaneously provide an environment where there are more factors that make workers want to stay and fewer that make them want to quit," Sorensen added.

[Read more: Prioritizing the Workforce]

According to the study, recent changes in labor market dynamics resulted in a decrease in turnover but a 7% increase in retail associates who are considering leaving their jobs, suggesting an underlying dissatisfaction with their current work situation. 

"Changes to the reasons that associates are staying or leaving an employer suggest that factors such as schedule flexibility serve a triggering role to job dissatisfaction," said Erica Grant, study co-author and Lotis Blue Consulting partner. "While some decision drivers such as enjoyable work consistently influence staying decisions across workforce segments, other factors vary significantly in their importance by retail segment. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for retailers."

Other findings from the study include:

  • Talent strategies for the retail workforce have a short shelf-life due to changes in labor and market conditions;
  • Stay-and-leave decisions have changed significantly in the last 12 months, differing across retailer types and workforce characteristics;
  • Job factors create magnetism that uniquely attracts or repels retail associates;
  • More associates are staying, but there are also more with one foot out the door; and
  • Pay and health and safety have made significant jumps as turnover and retention drivers this year, and scheduling triggers a cascade of turnover intentions.

Meeting Expectations

According to Will Eadie, chief revenue officer at Montreal-based WorkJam, employee expectations can be summed up in two words: communication and flexibility. 

"Employees want the convenience of being able to view their schedules in real time, easily swap shifts and pick up new ones to meet their needs as workers," he told Convenience Store News. "They also need a simple, intuitive way to receive all necessary communications from employers in one format, while also being able to communicate back to headquarters."

As Eadie further explained, two-way communication is imperative in meeting the expectations of frontline workers. Investing in workforce management (WFM) systems and software is a great way to empower employees with all these tools in one place. 

For example, WorkJam, a digital frontline workplace, offers a super app that handles everything from scheduling and training to two-way communication that companies can customize for employees, making it easy for them to access daily schedules on mobile devices, switch shifts and communicate through the app with other colleagues about these changes.

Meeting the expectations of frontline employees also goes a long way in meeting the expectations of managers as well, he noted. 

"Today's managers are often expected to do more with less people, leading to workers feeling stretched too thin. When workers have that flexibility to easily swap and pick up new shifts, it also allows managers to know they will have enough people on staff at any given time," Eadie pointed out. "Enabling features like allowing employees from different store districts to cover each other's shifts makes it easier for managers to have adequate staff, and building trust with workers by providing such flexibility increases retention overall."

Managing the Frontline

In addition to adding WFM solutions to address the shift flexibility issue, convenience retailers have begun providing employees early access to their paychecks. According to Eadie, early access to wages is a top priority among store associates. 

"The environment for frontline workers in general, and specifically c-store employees, can feel quite different from something like a corporate office culture. Being able to access earned wages earlier provides employees with a sense of financial stability, in turn promoting a culture in which employees feel supported by their employers," he said. 

As retailers continue to embrace the connection between a great employee experience and a great customer experience, WFM will continue to evolve.

"The need for businesses to continually innovate will impact how employers rely on WFM technologies to help them adapt quickly. Flexibility will be even more important as the gig economy and multigenerational workforces require employers to flex to the needs of their workforces," Eadie said. "Additionally, workflows will be automated and help track frontline workforce efficiency."

In the end, it comes down to those two words: communication and flexibility. 

"It's imperative for employers to open the lines of two-way communication to give their frontline workers a voice, as well as the tools they need to perform their jobs successfully" he explained. "They also need to holistically provide benefits that improve employees' lives inside and outside of work, fostering trust, support and engagement. 

"When the employee experience is improved, the customer experience follows, which creates a domino effect and helps the business run better. Investing in workforce management solutions that arm the frontline workforce with the tools they need to succeed is the first step to empowering and retaining employees and middle managers," Eadie said. 

About the Author

Melissa Kress

Melissa Kress

Melissa Kress is Executive Editor of Convenience Store News. She joined the brand in 2010. Melissa handles much of CSNews’ hard news coverage, such as mergers and acquisitions and company financial reports, and the technology beat. She is also one of the industry’s leading media experts on the tobacco category.

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