Guest Column | October 30, 2017

Why Retail Really Needs Effective Employee Engagement

What To Look For In New IT Employees

By Bulent Osman, Founder and CEO, StaffConnect

Retail has a problem with employee engagement. Quantum Workplace’s Employee Engagement Trends Report found nearly 35 percent of retail employees feel disengaged with their work. This is a big problem since, as the report found, when an organization keeps people engaged they have lower turnover, higher sales, and higher customer metrics.

Perhaps even more alarming is what the study revealed about coworker relationships among retail employees. The following employee assessments all saw decreases in percentage from the previous year:

  • my immediate co-workers consistently go the extra mile to achieve great results; –2.7 percent
  • I know I can depend on the other members of my team; –0.6 percent
  • the people I work with most closely are committed to producing top quality work; –0.5 percent

Why do retailers need to worry about these engagement problems? As Roger Simpson, CEO of The Retail Solution writes, “The result is awful, disengaged staff provides ordinary service, are challenging to manage, have an eye on the job column, and don’t help with team spirit and harmony.”

As emphasizes, disengagement that leads to high turnover has a direct effect on customer experience (CX) and it is “also more difficult to build customer loyalty if customers keep seeing a new face every time they enter your store.” In contrast, Simpson notes, “Motivated and engaged employees also stay longer and inspire others to perform, along with numerous other positive outcomes.”

Disengagement Drivers

Some retail trends are certainly helping to bolster increased levels of disengagement. As online retailers grow in size and popularity, many retail employees in traditional stores are worried about their future employment. Indeed, many well-known brick-and-mortars are closing up shop, à la Macy’s announcement earlier this year that the iconic department store is shuttering 63 stores and slashing 10,000 jobs. Shifts like these leave many wondering what the affect will be on traditional retailers, and whether the end is near for staff serving in retail stores.

Another factor is many retail employees are non-desk workers. Whether members of a retail team are working on the retail shop floor, call centers, warehouses, or remotely during delivery jobs, these employees create special needs for communication and logistics.

Quantum points out a Catch-22, though, about this situation, noting, “While the changing industry, in many ways, threatens engagement, but at the same time, engaged employees might be retail’s critical asset to adapting to the changing landscape.” Some forward-thinking companies are aware that they need to turn the dial on engaging and retaining talent.

One well-worn strategy to try to improve the employee experience (EX) is to boost retail wages, as Walmart, Target, and most recently TJ Maxx did. While this can be effective (particularly in the short-term), EX is influenced by more than just money. Facebook, for example, uncovered that for their employees, pride in the company is the biggest engagement driver. The three key factors the tech company found to predict pride levels among employees were, as described by Simpson:

  • Optimism: “How much do people believe in the company’s future?”
  • Mission: “How much do people care about the company’s vision and goals?”
  • Social good: “How confident are people that the company is making the world a better place?”

Engagement Targets

How can retail achieve these lofty goals? If you think about what leads to optimism, it often comes down to whether or not people feel a sense of connection — to their peers, managers, and the larger company. It follows that a connected organization that offers all workers, regardless of role or location, transparency — and also offers opportunities for ongoing two-way communication between retail staff and management — is better positioned to have workers who are more optimistic about their own future.

Mission is related to this. Retailers should prioritize being able to communicate the company’s goals and objectives to their entire workforce, giving everyone an equal chance to share and buy in to a common purpose. And social good is the third leg of the tripod — employees need a way to know what they do matters, which can be accomplished via sharing examples of how the retailer makes a difference in the lives of happy customers.

Recognition is another piece of the engagement puzzle. Research shows lack of recognition is the top reason employees decide to leave a company. A 2016 study on shift workers found the industry has an average churn rate of 41 percent, with retail workers quitting after just 10 months (and Gen Z workers after only 9 months). If providing more opportunities for social recognition and visibility within the company could help retain these employees, it’s a small price to pay compared to paying the annual re-recruitment, induction, and training costs, which have been estimated at more than $13.5 million.

Mobilizing Employee Empowerment

Retail needs a single-point solution that encompasses this plethora of needs for reaching, communicating, and engaging with employees — and mobile technology is currently the only tool that delivers all of this. Cloud-based mobile platforms empower retail workers (including non-desk workers) to feel a sense of optimism and mission, while increasing their awareness of the social good performed throughout their company and offering chances for individual and team recognition.

Such mobile engagement solutions also allow retail managers to accurately measure and analyze employee engagement over time, simplifying ongoing analysis and management of data insights and surveys. These behavioral insights can help retailers start to build a profile of employee engagement across stores and regions. By making cultural changes as needed in response to mobile feedback, retail organizations can finally begin to push back against the retail industry’s engagement challenges.

One clear way mobile engagement platforms can help improve EX and CX is by boosting the relationship between leaders and their direct reports. Mobile platforms open up new communication channels between retail employees and their managers, helping retail managers stay in touch with staff no matter when or where they work, so that no one is out of the loop. What’s more, managers can use mobile tools such as pulse surveys to gather valuable feedback from employees to assess and track engagement. If needed, retail communities can then drill down to make this insight granular by function, location, roles, brands, or stores.

Other benefits a mobile engagement platform can bring to a retail organization’s engagement initiatives include:

  • Giving retail employees a voice and two-way forum to express ideas with peers and management — providing this opportunity shows staff their opinions are valued.
  • Option to quiz employees for ongoing learning and development.
  • Offering sales incentives and promotions, such as targeted push notifications to sales employees on deal of the week, product focus, leader boards, seasonal sales, etc.
  • Ability to create internal competition and build engagement via group and individual messaging.
  • Options to visibly recognize employees’ achievements to their peers and throughout the whole organization.
  • Enabling peer-to-peer and group chat to get fast, secure updates on order processing and procurement, store deliveries, targets, and more.

Mobile engagement solutions work where other tools fail because they help create an emotional connection throughout all arms of a retail organization, wherever people work. Since all employees are empowered by this mobile platform to interact, share, and collaborate with peers and leadership alike, retail employers can finally influence true engagement in the hearts and minds of their team members.

About The Author

Bulent Osman is responsible for leading strategy and driving growth at StaffConnect. Prior to StaffConnect, Osman served as International Sales and Marketing Director for 3i Infotech. Prior to 3iInfotech, Osman held the position of Head of Sales, Microsoft Dynamics, where he led the indirect sales channel organization in the UK.