No Tech to Talk? Get Ready for Retail’s Great Resignation

There is no bigger issue that retail bosses are facing right now than great resignation. It is worse than supply chain mismanagement.

Our recent poll of 500 UK retail employees has revealed a staggering lack of investment in people technology. Just 23% of respondents said their one-to-ones are recorded using software, and more than half are either using pen and paper (31%) or not tracking conversations at all (25%). These are baffling statistics when you consider how much the retail industry has invested in customer-facing technology over the past few years. The scale of that expenditure is in the billions if not trillions, yet somehow the industry’s investment in people technology has paled in comparison. In ordinary times this would be less than ideal, but against the backdrop of an employee-led market and The Great Resignation, it’s creating a fast-track route to mass attrition and exponential hiring costs.

There’s plenty of evidence to back this up, too: the same research revealed that nearly a quarter (21%) of retail workers plan on leaving their job over the next 12 months while another 19% are still undecided. That signals a potential churn rate of up to 40% this year alone.

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To put it bluntly, there is no bigger issue that retail bosses are facing right now.

Forget customer experience, supply chain management, or even the ongoing ramifications of COVID.

If you haven’t got a workforce, you haven’t got a business.

So what can retailers do to turn the tidal wave of resignations and persuade people to stay?

Conversation is key

Perhaps the most effective tool that any organization, retail or otherwise, has in its arsenal right now is conversation. By speaking to employees regularly, managers can become more aware of the issues that any one individual is struggling with – and that awareness is key to ensuring both early invention and the right support.

That said, it’s encouraging to learn that manager-employee conversations are now happening frequently across the UK retail industry: more than 8 out of 10 (83%) workers are having a conversation with their manager at least once a month. The importance of frequency in the context of performance management is no longer in question and that’s a huge step forward.

But there’s still work to be done – and particularly when it comes to the content of those conversations. Ninety-two percent of respondents agreed their one-to-ones should be balanced, two-way conversations, yet only 37% are encouraged to set the agenda for these crucial meetings. Perhaps even more telling is that a third (33%) of customer-facing employees say their employer is not doing enough to support their well-being.

These findings point to one conclusion: frequency alone is not enough to support effective conversations at work. The missing piece of the puzzle? Enabling employees to take an active role in discussing the issues that matter most to them. Frequency can certainly support this but it cannot act as a substitute. The formula for success lies in frequent and broad conversations.

Broad and bespoke 

So for the most part, the frequency conundrum has been cracked. What retailers now need to prioritize is enabling one-to-ones that cover a wide breadth of content, and which focus on the employee’s specific needs and wants. These bespoke conversations should extend beyond performance to include, amongst other topics, well-being, motivation, and development. Only through these broader discussions can managers capture a holistic view of the employee and the things they need in order to reach their full potential.

Of course, procuring the right tools and technologies to support these effective conversations is vital. But before we come on to that, there’s another key factor to consider: the role that managers play in enabling and encouraging employees to discuss the issues that directly impact their ability to perform – whatever those may be. There should be no ‘home-self’ and ‘work-self’ in these scenarios, and besides, the two are inextricably linked anyway. Employees must be able to address any topic that impacts on their performance.

But here’s the thing: no employee is going to open up to an autocratic manager who appears, on the face of it, never to fail or show weakness themselves? My point here is that managers must show their human side in order to grant an unspoken permission for their employees to do the same. We’re all human. We all have family struggles, health issues, and worries. The days of leaving these at the office door are over and managers have a key role to play in breaking down the long-standing taboos that prevent people from voicing their struggles and receiving the support they need.

The Right Tools and HR Technologies

So what should HR teams be looking for when seeking a technology solution to facilitate these holistic conversations? Here’s five key things to put on your checklist:

1) Does the solution support employee-led conversations?

2) Does it provide managers with a bespoke conversation framework for each of their
direct reports?

3) Can the technology flex in line with the employee’s evolving needs and wants?

4) Does it offer a good user experience (UX) that promotes adoption and engagement?

5) …and finally, does it deliver the necessary data to inform better people experiences and improved performance?

The undeniable truth is that, in the midst of The Great Resignation, retailers need to get serious about finding the right strategies and tools to support people in the new world of work – and one-to-ones, underpinned by frequency and breadth of content, sit at the heart of this. If your organization is lacking the technologies needed to get people talking about the things that matter most, now is the time to invest. Your people will be happier, healthier, and higher performing – and crucially, they’ll be less likely to leave.

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