Our member roundtable, which we hosted this week in conjunction with our Partners, Kronos, brought together HR managers and leaders to explore what’s going on in the retail workplace - and the growing complexities of workforce management.

It’s a significant and pressing issue for UK retailers right now. The growing challenge is how retailers balance changing customer expectations with the needs of employees and the business, while maintaining compliance with ongoing changes to employment legislation.

Flexibility. Yours or mine?

We know many colleagues choose to work in retail because they enjoy the flexibility it offers. But what do we mean by flexibility? Often employees and employers see it differently. For employer’s, flexibility often means deploying colleagues where and when required to meet customer demand. However, employee’s often see flexibility as having predictable schedules that meet their personal needs. Capitalising on flexibility is paramount to both individual and company performance. Creating a mutually understood definition of flexibility - weighted we would suggest in favour of employees, is key - if improvements to retention, engagement and productivity are desired.

The productivity challenge

The retail workforce has seen a 6.7% gain in productivity over the past five years, compared to the national average of 1.6%. Falling employment rates in retail (both full-time and part-time and significant investments in technology have been a contributing factor to these increases. However, maintaining and growing that productivity – in the context of a long-term decrease in the size of the retail workforce – will remain a significant challenge. Upskilling and multi-skilling the workforce, and the use of workforce technology to optimise the alignment people resources with business and customer demand, will be critical to future success.

Alongside flexibility, employers cite fair and accurate pay, the social element of work and feeling valued as being of upmost importance. Getting these things right will make for a happy and motivated workforce – which in turn will lead to improved customer service, productivity, creativity and loyalty.

The complexities of compliance

The ongoing changes to workers’ rights adds to the increasingly complex picture. How do employers maintain and demonstrate compliance with new legislation and more stringent enforcement powers, yet at the same time control costs and meet changing customer demand?

We know audits can be lengthy, costly and time-consuming – and findings can be interpreted differently by enforcement agencies. Many retailers are finding that their existing employee benefits - designed to enable flexibility, support employees and improve working conditions – are inadvertently falling foul of HMRC rules and lead to breaches in the new legislation.


Is tech the answer?

Having the right workforce management systems in place can help employers effectively manage these competing demands by simplifying and automating employee related processes. By automating and optimising customer demand forecasting, employee scheduling, time recording, absence management, task management, payroll and labour analytics processes, retailers can expect to achieve cost savings equivalent to between 2% and 4% of their annual payroll bill. In addition, having the ability to take into consideration employee work preferences during the work planning processes, and giving employees mobile based self-service functionality to manage their own work/life balance, only serves to increase engagement, productivity and retention.

Every retail wants their employees to spend more time serving customers and nurturing colleagues, and less time worrying about their pay and administrative tasks. This is what workforce management solutions help to deliver.

Choice and empowerment

But tech is only part of the solution. It enables better management, it does not replace good people management. Organisations need to implement effective and long-term change management programmes to accompany implementation or development of workforce management systems. And managers need to use their regained time to interact more, not less, with their employees.

Finally, tech should always be a means of helping to increase employee choice and empowerment –by improving flexibility, giving greater control of work/life balance, delivering accurate pay and ensuring compliance with employment contracts and legislation.

Get advice and support

There is no one-size fits all, but there are proven solutions available to help you engage and empower your workforce to improve performance and profitability. If you would like to access further information and resources, please do visit www.kronos.co.uk.

If you would like to chat to Kronos about ways to improve your workforce management processes call 0118 900 6848 or email UKinfo@kronos.com.

If you are a member of the BRC, you can also access information, support and guidance on the full range of workforce issues affecting retailers, by joining our HR Community.