For On-Call Retail Employees, Engagement Takes Time Off

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Practically every retail store currently has their 'Now Hiring' sign front and center in preparation for the holiday rush. But this season, many retailers will be operating differently than they're accustomed to, as they will no longer utilize on-call scheduling to staff their stores.
Employee Engagement Strategies

Practically every retail store currently has their 'Now Hiring' sign front and center in preparation for the holiday rush. But this season, many retailers will be operating differently than they're accustomed to, as they will no longer utilize on-call scheduling to staff their stores.Earlier this year, New York's attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, launched an investigation into the scheduling practices of 13 leading retail chains, including Gap, Target, and Sears. These stores were guilty of using on-call shifts, which provide employees with little advance notice as to which hours they'll be working. Most employees were faced with uncertainty, not finding out if they'd actually be working during their scheduled time until just hours prior to the start of their shift. While such methods provide the retailer itself with an efficient way to staff up or down according to in-store demand, this cost-saving approach robs employees of what they're owed, as retailers don't have to pay those who aren't needed. Not only do these workers experience adverse financial and health effects, including stress and strain on family life, but these staffing methods also lead to greater employee attrition.

"The social issue of unpredictability in work schedules causes employees to feel less valued by their employers, which can result in higher turnover," explains Joshua Ostrega, COO and co-founder of WorkJam. "Experiencing high turnover results in expensive recruitment and training costs, but it also results in having a less experienced workforce. As a customer, when you walk into a store with staff members who are well trained and have been around for a while, the customer experience is typically higher and so are sales. Most would agree that the opposite happens when you walk into that store and the employees are much less experienced."

Of course, during the holidays, it's far more common to walk into your favorite store and discover employees that are relatively unfamiliar with the store's products and layout, as these seasonal workers don't have the skills year-round staff members demonstrate, thereby detracting from the customer experience. But, when staff members are also plagued by the uncertainty of not knowing when they'll work next, everyone loses. Since the beginning of the investigation, however, numerous retailers--J. Crew, Urban Outfitters, and Victoria's Secret, for example--have dropped on-call scheduling in an effort to ease this burden and recapture employee satisfaction. Yet, this may not be enough to solve the underlying problem within the retail sector.

"Like every holiday season, retailers will be pressed to scale up their workforces in a fast and functional way," Ostrega adds. "Employers who focus on extending their existing workforce management systems with employee engagement technology that includes better communication and shift management will benefit by keeping the right amount of people on the floor at the right times. During the busy holiday season, successful retailers will focus on proper staffing to maximize customer service and sales."

Beyond scheduling, retailers must consider employee training and engagement initiatives to ensure each individual has the knowledge and know-how necessary to uphold the brand's promise no matter what season it may be. While understaffing hinders the customer experience, particularly during the holiday rush, interacting with poorly trained staff members also has the same impact. Employees that don't receive the proper training will find themselves struggling to solve shoppers' problems, ultimately increasing stress levels on both ends of the interaction. Shoppers will then be more likely to turn to the competition, while employees will be more likely to quit, both causing the retailer to lose more money than they're saving. They say you've got to spend money to make money, but when it comes to both employee and customer engagement, these initiatives don't equate to money spent, but money invested in a better future and experience for all.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION