The human resource
Steve Elcock, founder & CEO of elementsuite, provides the top 8 HR-in-retail insights to address staffing challenges in 2024
Whilst 2023 wasn’t anticipated to be a normal year in UK retail, there are some encouraging signs that the high street is looking stronger. Meanwhile, turbulent times lie ahead from an HR and talent perspective, with the opportunities of a long-term retail career path diminishing. According to elementsuite’s recent HR Metrics That Impact report, the average yearly staff turnover in retail is a whopping 27.3%.
Combined with reports that 12 percent of all available UK jobs are in the retail industry, it’s understandable why retail HR leaders are scrambling for ways to attract and secure their talent. For retailers looking to make their people central to their omnichannel retail future in 2024, finding the right way to enhance key HR management practices will be vital. The best way to start this is to reflect on the HR lessons learned by the retail industry over the last year.
Top 8 HR-in-retail insights for 2023
Here are eight of the top HR-in-retail insights that may help HR and people leaders in retail to fine tune their strategies:
- Employee retention and hiring
There are some key causes to the widespread employee attrition, with various macroeconomic influences creating a culture of high pressure, low reward and mis-shaped career expectations. These include inflation, supply chain costs, and the cost-of-living crisis, escalating costs of travel and static wage structures. Workers’ evolving requirements for retail career support are hard for HR teams to keep up with.
While some may be beyond retail HR experts’ control, where they can steer change is by establishing good recruitment practices that factor in career ambitions and can support hiring processes and standardisation across a busy and fast-paced industry. HR leaders must elevate hiring and onboarding practices, think about employee motivational and benefits strategies, such as an attractive flexible working policy and make salary and promotional ladders transparent.
- Handling employee complaints
It’s a well-known fact that staff won’t suffer low pay and a poor work/life balance. Therefore, the way retail HR leaders handle employee complaints is key to keeping them.
Supporting employees with physical and mental healthcare needs, along with their personal career journey, is one thing. But retaining staff amidst the challenging economic landscape requires company-wide support driven by empathetic leadership and crisis-proof HR vision. There are ways to make solving employee complaints as easy as possible. Retail HR pros should set up anonymous feedback channels and digital employee sentiment tools to engage and respond to their staff HR issues in 2024 and beyond.
- Managing change
Change management is not something only done in a boardroom or at an AGM, it’s also done on the shop floor. Managing change is empowered by tech, from cross-team collaboration to working schedules, L&D to workplace communication, security, support and customer service. With technology and legacy retail practices, everyone in retail must have the training to be able to utilise novelty retail-focused technology to elevate retail practice and embrace digital and in-person retail to improve customer experiences for the long term.
- Improving employee engagement
With such high staff turnover rates, employee engagement initiatives couldn’t be more critical for 2024. This means that cultures of recognition and appreciation must be built and strengthened. Regular communication must be personalised, more meaningful – in the form of constructive feedback, 360 feedback or continuous feedback.
Retail workers want to feel like their employer listens to them and shows how their work links to company goals and performance. Therefore, in 2024, retail HR departments need to create a more inclusive environment for employees through investing time and resources in employee engagement initiatives.
- Training and development
To break the cycle of the ‘accidental manager’, retail businesses need to prioritise training and development for all employees, particularly those in leadership roles. Providing contextualised, retail-specific training not only improves skill levels among the workforce, thus reducing the impact of subpar hiring or promotion decisions, but it also signals to employees that the company is willing to invest in their future and their careers.
An effective training strategy must include job-specific training and mentorship programs, from excellence in customer service courses to cross-training opportunities. This will not only enhance the individual employee experience but also the customer experience, as employees who feel valued and invested in are more likely to provide superior service that impacts the bottom line.
- Time management for HR staff
A crucial lesson for retail HR in 2023, and one that will be carried into 2024, is the importance of effective time management. Despite the proliferation of tech into retail spaces, retail remains a labour-centric sector. This means that investing in more efficient time management processes is central to sustainable business practice.
Beyond addressing flat shop floor labour costs and making savings, this time efficiency can be applied across the entire retail recruitment journey. It’s a broad spectrum of opportunity, from handling employee onboarding to organising reviews, staff contracts and managing deadlines, to better resolving complaints, returns, admin and stock management. Improved work life experiences enable retail staff to engage and keep customers happy.
- Organisational structure
A well-designed organisational structure is essential for retail companies to streamline HR operations, improve HR efficiency, and improve employee relations and engagement. Retail HR departments must make sure every organisational touchpoint serves the right purpose and is consistent with improving employee experiences. In 2024, HR leaders must focus on ways to improve the on- and offboarding of new staff and create franchisee-focused HR tools fit for large organisations across regions.
From intuitive technical processes to real-time employee alerts, to employee training, health and safety training and employee feedback and reviews, the right organisational structure – supplemented by great tech – makes HR processes more efficient and confident.
- Communication and collaboration
The mark of great customer service lies in effective communication, and personal connection between staff, customers and product. The challenges retailers face are largely around how to maintain and improve customer communication and connection in the digital age, and how to improve staff communication between departments, shifts and team members both online and in real-time.
In response to these challenges, digital employee communication tools have emerged as a game-changing solution. By implementing such innovative tools, retailers can foster a more cohesive, collaborative, and efficient working environment, ultimately driving better customer service and stronger business results.
When retailers empower their employees with access to the right technology to support them to carry out their roles effectively and in a way that works for them, retailers can foster a more cohesive, collaborative, and efficient working environment, ultimately driving better customer service and stronger business results. It’s an investment that the retail sector can’t afford to overlook as we step into 2024.