how can retail meet the expectations of the future workforce?

how can retail meet the expectations of the future workforce?
Rob Bate

Retailers are facing unprecedented challenges as economic and social upheaval amplified by the coronavirus pandemic reboots customer and employee expectations. Meeting these new expectations requires a significantly more adaptive retail workforce: one that is digital, empowered, flexible and diverse.

Retail leaders need to change

Social and economic upheaval sparked by the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated a broader shift in shopping habits that has transformed traditional brick-and-mortar stores into interactive experience destinations. Against this backdrop, retail leaders not only have to keep their staff safe, employed, supported and treated equally, but they also have to adjust to the changing expectations of customers who seek more engaging and personalised shopping experiences than in the past.

In this new environment, managers are ‘experience orchestrators’—not just for customers but for employees as well. They must also become ‘coach and storyteller’—embodying a brand’s values and advocating its purpose across the store to build brand loyalty among shoppers and workers alike.

The success of this revamped role hinges on technology, with managers expected to embrace digital ways of working. Admin tasks, such as scheduling, can be automated, while data analytics can enhance the in-store experience for customers, ultimately enabling managers to spend more time engaging with shoppers and nurturing their employees. Almost half of managers said if their administrative burden was reduced, they would spend more time on coaching and developing their teams (49%), while just over a quarter (27%) said they would spend more time interacting with customers.

Today’s employees expect more from their employer

The pandemic has prompted many people to reassess their career options, with more than half of workers exploring new income sources or contemplating career changes. That has sparked the so-called ‘great resignation’, with employees now becoming more discerning about who they work for. If their values are not aligned—whether that is related to morals, ethics or sustainability—then employees are likely to start looking for opportunities elsewhere.

To that end, employees are three times more likely to remain in a job where they understand their impact. If a job has purpose, employees are not only more inclined to go the extra mile for their employer, they are also willing to do it for less money (in some cases as much as 15% less). In addition to the call for shared values, employees on hourly pay structures also want more input over scheduling, including greater flexibility to pick up extra shifts or swap shifts with colleagues. They also want access to modern communication tools that make it easier to communicate with employers and check schedules.

While employee expectations and mindsets vary according to generation, organisations should also recognise that workers of all ages are looking for the same fundamental needs from their job: meaning, purpose, good leaders and professional growth.

The newest generation of retail employees are thinking differently

Generation Z (anybody who was born after 1995) aspire to integrate work and life in a way that is more meaningful. They are more picky than previous generations: when searching for a job, they will scrutinise potential employers for the clarity of the organisation’s purpose, how transparent and sincere those organisations are, and the extent to which they will have a voice in the workplace. Gen Zers—as the most ethnically diverse generation in history—also expect their employers to maintain a diverse workforce across all levels of the organisation, including in leadership roles.

Gen Z workers also expect employers to think differently about employee benefits. Instead of a set menu of perks, some companies are offering personalised benefits packages to tailor rewards to individual tastes, mirroring the personalised experience this generation has come to expect as consumers. That could be paying for courses to develop skills or support with student debt repayments (Gen Z being the most indebted generation to date).

This generation are also digital natives, growing up with the internet and social media. As such, they expect their employers to offer the same level of technology and digital connectivity in the workplace as they enjoy at home. Research shows that Gen Zers are more likely to turn down job offers if an organisation doesn’t have modern digital platforms and equipment.

Key takeaways

• Retail managers need to understand what it takes to be a good leader in a world of economic and social upheaval where shopping habits have changed and retail stores have become destination experiences.

• The pandemic has prompted people to reconsider their career options, with employees becoming more discerning about who they work for and more insistent that their values are aligned.

• Generation Z employees have grown up in an internet age and expect their employers to offer the same level of digital connectivity at work as they are accustomed to at home.


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