The fall season signals a shift in the retail marketplace.
Folks are settling into routines after summer vacation, and it’s time to stock up on cozy scarfs and sweaters for the new school year. Despite the ubiquity of online shopping, a majority of American shoppers still plan to conduct their back-to-school shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, with the occasional online purchase.
For retail workers, fall is a time of transition as well. Those who are students or parents supporting school-age children can now plan their work around finalized school schedules. And as the impending holiday season nears, proactively setting up reliable retail work in the fall helps save the stress of doing so in November or December. In short, work ethic is in the air.
This trend also requires retail employers to start making measured decisions. Undoubtedly, retail sales will pick up during the fall and winter seasons, but it’s impossible to know the optimal hiring levels this far in advance. Over the course of 2019, overall employment levels in the U.S. have remained steady, but retail employers have limited new hiring, leaving retail employment as the top sector for overall job cuts. It’s too soon to tell if this trend will hold for the fall, but it is clear that employers are exercising great caution in the face of economic volatility.
Given all the uncertainty in this industry, it can be difficult to create a work environment that offers stability and continuity for workers. And yet, as HR professionals, these uncertain conditions make our strategic leadership more important than ever. You may not know what the final sales numbers will be, but you can act now to ensure that employees feel that their concerns are acknowledged by management each day. After all, in a business where customer service rules, satisfied employees lead to satisfied shoppers.
Here are three techniques of empathetic HR leaders that demonstrate to retail workers that their talents and loyalty are valued:
- Focus on onboarding—and offboarding.
Fall is the perfect time to consider your onboarding strategy. As the weather gets colder, shopping centers get busier. The slow buildup during September and October allows employers to introduce new staff to procedures and customer service expectations without the overwhelming crowds of November and December. Small greetings for new employees, such as a handmade “welcome” poster, can acknowledge that each employee is valued, whether they stay onboard for a few months, or a few years. And don’t forget offboarding. It’s well-known that almost half of job-seekers use Glassdoor at some point in their job search. Even in retail, giving departing employees a proper moment of gratitude can help reduce the risk that your business will suffer a bad review that impacts future hiring, and it may encourage that employee to “boomerang” back in another busy season.
- Offer voluntary benefits.
It may not be feasible to offer a full suite of medical benefits to part-time retail workers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help support your employees’ health and well-being. Luckily for businesses, the American healthcare and benefits market has been evolving to fill the gaps between full coverage and no coverage. Consider less traditional benefits services like Stride and CoreHealth—they allow employers to make more reasonable investments toward coverage, while cost-sharing with employees. For retail workers who have more flexible schedules and benefits requirements, services like these are designed to meet their needs in the moment, without expensive annual contracts. Including options like critical illness insurance, life insurance, and vision and dental care allows employees to create benefits packages that best meet their needs and budgets, without prohibitive monthly premiums.
- Be transparent with scheduling and expectations.
Imagine planning a family outing or child’s school pick-up without knowing your schedule next week. Sounds pretty difficult, doesn’t it? For retail workers, this is a common occurrence, and it’s a major source of stress. Many cities such as Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago are already taking municipal action to force employers to disclose schedules far in advance. Regardless of a legal decree, empathetic employers can take the lead here. Implement an ambitious scheduling plan that allows workers to plan for healthy work-life balance. When the busy season picks up and additional hours are needed, be sure you’re giving advance notice of what the expectations are and how you’ll offer opportunities for breaks and recovery days. A busy retail season is great for employers, and by putting procedures in place to increase transparency and strengthen trust, it can be positive for employees as well.
Interested in learning more about how you can support your retail workforce? Check out our e-book for more information.