The UK has seen a return to relative normalcy in the second half of 2022. However, many workers are still evaluating how they would like to work in the post-lockdown period, and employee retention is a key issue for employers. Earlier this year, the PwC Global Hopes and Fears Survey reported that one in five workers was planning to quit their job in 2022.
The quest for better pay is often a major reason for changing jobs, and the cost of living crisis will no doubt exacerbate this problem, but many people are also looking for more fulfilling work and a better work-life balance. The workplace culture and values of an employer are also becoming increasingly important for employees who are on the move.
In this article, we look at the problem of customer retention through the lens of the retail sector, considering:
- some of the top retail workplace issues; and
- Suggestions on how to address these issues by looking at culture, diversity and inclusion.
In the early stages of the pandemic, front-line retail workers were in many cases recognized as valued frontline workers keeping vital services running during unprecedented times. After two years of lockdown uncertainty, differing working hours and temporary workplace closures, views on masks and vaccinations have polarized (which has severely impacted those in customer-facing roles) and sadly, an increase in violence and abuse against store workers has kept employees stuck in retail a constant challenge. The proliferation of hybrid and work-from-home roles available in the broader market makes a customer-centric role (where work-from-home is often not an option) less attractive, especially as commuting costs rise as a result of the energy crisis.
Key workplace issues affecting retail employers now
The UK has entered a new phase since spring 2022, when offices and trains filled, masks were no longer mandatory and the focus on workplace vaccinations waned. However, we are still in a period of transition and the impact of the pandemic is still being felt as employees continue to reassess their lives and determine what works and what doesn’t work for them in the workplace.
Even as things return to normal, some employees continue to be negatively impacted by COVID-19, e.g. B. Those with long Covid and those afraid to return to work while COVID-19 continues to circulate. Employers should be aware of and sensitive to these issues while creating a return to a new normal in the workplace, taking into account possible obligations under the Equality Act 2010 in relation to disabled workers and health and safety at work requirements.
On the more serious end of the issues facing retail workers (pre-Covid and onward) is workplace harassment from customers. Add to that the stress, long hours and burnout after a turbulent few years, all of which pose significant risks to both the physical and mental health of retail workers. Employers have obligations towards employees with physical or mental disabilities and a duty to protect all employees from workplace harassment. Failure to do so could result in the court filing claims and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) taking enforcement action, regardless of whether an individual has brought an action in court. Ensuring employees are protected from harassment from colleagues and customers is the foundation of maintaining a stable and inclusive culture.
These and other issues make employee retention a key challenge for retail employers. So what practical steps can retail employers take to improve employee retention?
How improving workplace culture can help retain employees
How companies maintain a positive culture post-pandemic will likely be critical to improving employee retention. While compensation remains important, employees also value wellbeing, work-life balance and belonging.
We recommend having frequent informal discussions to encourage open communication with employees and staying in touch regularly to show a proactive interest in employees’ good mental and physical health. Regular catch-up appointments help managers ensure they are aware of any issues early on, as it is harder to raise concerns when issues are building and gaining in importance. It’s also important to make a real effort to make new employees feel comfortable speaking to their line manager or colleague to ensure employees stay in their roles over the long term.
Retail employers may want to consider implementing updated employee-friendly policies to improve workplace culture and a sense of inclusion. Individuals increasingly expect their employer to align with their values and prioritize this when making career decisions. When a company’s purpose, values, and culture are not aligned with those of its workforce, retaining employees can be difficult. For a retail employer, it is critical to ensure that marketing and advertising campaigns reflect the organization’s culture, and aligning employee benefits with these campaigns can be particularly effective. More generally, policies, events and employee communications that focus on inclusivity, for example around various religious holidays, LGBTQ+ inclusion and menopause, can help create a positive workplace culture that helps retain employees. The flexibility for employees with care and family responsibilities and the policy behind it also promote employee retention.
Sustainability is also a motivating factor that many employees value. Companies with a strong ethos around sustainability and climate change are likely to inspire a sense of pride among their employees while also contributing to international efforts to mitigate climate change. Clyde & Co’s HR Eco Audit is available to clients across the retail sector and beyond who wish to further develop their corporate culture and implement ESG-friendly policies and practices.
Important practical tips for retaining talent
- Consider offerings that make travel easier for employees, especially given the pressures of the cost-of-living crisis: fuel allowances, the establishment of car-sharing arrangements, meal allowances, increased employee discounts, and more flexibility for employees to set shift lengths in a way that works for them .
- Focus on wellbeing at work: employee assistance programs, anonymous employee surveys, buddying and mentoring programs, on-demand physical/mental/financial wellbeing resources, and peer-to-peer recognition tools.
- Provide training for employees to support them in their changing roles (to reduce the need for performance management) and generally think about what skills are needed (e.g. a strong customer experience in store).
- Focus on diversity and inclusion: Employees who feel they belong are more likely to be productive and stay with a company longer (and minimize the risk of grievances/labor courts).
For more information on any of the topics covered in this update, or if you are interested in learning more about our diversity and inclusion training or our HR Eco Audit, please get in touch with James Major, Eleanor Winslet or your usual contact at Clyde & Co .
PwC | Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2022 PwC