Every sector is affected by the current skills shortage.
But in retail, where competition is fierce and the younger generation is becoming a dominant force, revising employee retention strategies is even more urgent. Finding employees is only half the task. Monica Higgins reports on innovative ideas for retaining employees.
Fifteen to twenty years ago, Australian employees in the retail sector were more likely to stick with their job for a long time. While job satisfaction was of course important, more importance was placed on employer needs than on the requirements of the employee. Recent surveys show Australian workers won’t think twice about leaving their job if they’re unhappy with their role or existing management styles, or if there’s a substandard work environment. Nowhere is this more true than in retail where the younger generation—school leavers, university students, and young graduates—are out in force with an entirely new work ethic that demands fresh ideas, different management styles, and career opportunities.
Retail employers can swing this to their advantage by investing time and effort in selecting the right employees from the start and planning and implementing management policies that will encourage staff to stay in their jobs.
Peter Sheahan is a Generation Y expert and author of Generation Y: Thriving (and Surviving) with Generation Y at Work. He says while some will argue the emergence of the younger demographic in the workforce may alleviate problems associated with the current skills shortage and an ageing generation, many employers have not yet taken the time to consider the differences between the needs and working styles of the young and ageing workforce.
“The best thing is to become a Generation Y-friendly employer,” he says, “who provides meaningful, well-rewarded work in a balanced and flexible environment.” This approach will not only appeal to younger staff, he explains, but also to older workers looking for a better quality of life.
Where to start? Sheahan suggests finding quality employees and improving staff retention is about “engineering the touchpoints”, a practice that begins at the recruitment stage. “Outline appropriate expectations in the recruitment process,” he says. “Sadly, many employers often inflate expectations when recruiting new staff as a way of accelerating the hiring process.”
To follow through on this step, your management staff need to be capable of reflecting your business philosophy. “You could have a great, desirable brand,” says Sheahan, “but often that branding is not apparent in management styles. The new employee might discover that the boss is not up to scratch, and doesn’t reflect what the brand stands for.”
One retailer that delivers its promise and is enjoying low staff turnover is Sportsgirl. The female fashion brand with 100 stores nationwide is making new waves in providing a desirable and attractive working environment for employees of all ages, and this has earned the company Employer of Choice status.
Rebecca Hard, national training and development manager for Sportsgirl, says good HR and training strategies are key elements in staff retention. “While some staff turnover is great because it opens the door for new ideas, the knowledge base of longstanding staff members really helps to boost the company’s growth.
“Staff retention is a critical factor for profit and for the succession plans that see staff work their way through the business, bringing their knowledge from the floor to more senior roles,” she says.
To ensure this competitive advantage, Sportsgirl have executed regular training programs as part of their business development plan. “We’re currently implementing an intensive people management program where we’re focusing on the key areas of leadership, motivation, and understanding individual staff members.
“Our area managers are the key to building a high performance team. We aim to empower and trust them, which is critical to success and following through on what we promise as a brand. It also provides consistency.”
On a small scale, Dean Roberts, franchisee of healthy fast-food franchise, Wellbeing, is enjoying low staff turnover at a very early stage of his business venture. In the first year of operation, Roberts has not only increased the profit margin of the previous franchisee, but has had only four staff members leave.
The young businessman attributes his low staff turnover partly to the fortnightly training nights he offers to all staff members. “I aim to get my staff trained in all areas,” he says. “If an employee gets stuck doing just one repetitive task all day, they’re more likely to get bored and leave.”
Roberts is certainly on the right track. Providing job variety and incentives for motivation and stimulation in a retail environment are critical elements in making your employees know they’re moving towards a common goal.
Sheahan says this diversity is a golden rule for retaining staff, particularly where Generation Y is concerned. “From a retail perspective, we have created a system to employ the lowest common denominator for the purpose of cost-cutting. As a result, we tend to pigeonhole people into certain roles.
“Generation Y are a hyper-stimulated group of people and they will get bored easily with certain roles because the demand for a skilled workforce is so high now. The secret to keeping them is variety,” he suggests.
To identify problem areas, Sportsgirl have implemented focus groups that allow key staff members the opportunity to voice opinions about their jobs and move towards a desirable resolution. “This includes discussions on variety, conditions, working environment, training and incentives,” says Hard.
“The key to all of this is to constantly challenge ourselves and aim to be dynamic about what we do,” she says about making positive changes in the business.
Sportsgirl also offer incentives such as travel and clothing vouchers, and their Glamarazzi program has provided a solid foundation for learning and development as well as a way to place faith and trust in staff members.
“The Glamarazzi is a marketing team made up of our store staff. They do PR [public relations] at events like the L’Oreal Fashion Festival and other events which we’re key sponsors of. We’ve tried using PR professionals for this, but it works better with our floor staff because they know the business and are the best PR for us. This is great for those guys and girls who’re studying marketing or similar courses,” explains Hard.
“The focus with Sportsgirl is on learning and development. The things our staff learn here will not only help them while they’re with us, but also with their careers down the track.”
Sheahan describes Sportsgirl’s ability to connect with staff on an emotional level as “experiential retail”, a practicality that needs to be seriously considered by all retailers aiming to retain key staff members.
With a marked shift in employee expectations it is imperative, Sheahan stresses, “that not just individual companies, but industries as a whole look proactively to creating positive brands for their wor
kplaces … and start doing it now.”