The Indian retail landscape is currently experiencing exponential growth, with retailers focused on development and growth in urban pockets and Tier-II and Tier-III cities. Healthy economic growth, influx of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), increasing disposable incomes, urbanization, changing consumer tastes and preferences, are all driving growth of the organized retail industry of the country. India is expected to become the world's third-largest consumer economy, reaching US$ 400 billion in consumption by 2025. With the retail industry poised to grow exponentially, the workforce required will observe a dramatic increase.
Employees of the retail sector enact the role of the last line of defense before a sale is made. Therefore, driving sales for retail giants underscore heavy dependency on their front-line workforce. This is particularly evident during the festive season when harrowed customers look for well-informed floor attendants to help them navigate and shop. However, when the same scene is envisioned without their presence it results in disgruntled customers leaving the store. Thus, absenteeism has a domino effect in this sector, since it affects staffing and scheduling models, impacts employee morale, store performance and ultimately customer satisfaction.
Unscheduled absenteeism has a corrosive effect on retailers, their sales and eventually their bottom line. The Indian retail sector faces instances of last minute absenteeism, which results in retailers being understaffed 25 per cent of the time. Filling vacant shifts is stressful for managers and disrupts store performance. To quantify the impact of unplanned absenteeism our most recent Kronos Workforce Institute survey reveals that retailers not only view unplanned absence as one of their most difficult and time-consuming issues, they also find it detrimental to employee engagement.
Absenteeism leads to a vicious domino effect – when employee engagement dips, unplanned absence spikes and finally the overworked employees burn out and disengage. Unplanned absence will always be a challenge for retailers, so here are a few proactive strategies they can deploy to mitigate its impact:
Store success is directly proportional to employee success
Store productivity is measured by two elements – revenue and customer satisfaction. Our studies reveal that both these parameters are adversely impacted with low employee engagement levels and high absenteeism. Employees feel driven to actively engage at work when their personal and professional needs are met. Some employees feel overworked due to repeated shifts covered for their colleagues, who take unplanned leaves. This leads to a stressful work environment, declining engagement and eventually resignation.
It is imperative to address the rise in disengaged employees as a means to treat absences. Only 55 per cent of retailers worldwide, and less so in India, have the technology in place to manage unplanned absences. Store managers should focus on the work environment and experience being offered to the employees, to tackle the high-impact issues that detract from their workplace culture. Store managers can help maintain a positive work environment by redesigning processes, simplify and streamline daily tasks and communicate objectives and timelines to empower employees at the workplace. This will help them feel less inhibited and more engaged to carry out their tasks. Find ways to let employees know they are doing a good job. A simple “thank you” can go a long way in cementing their loyalty.
Intelligent shift swapping with preferences can work wonders
Adequate shift coverage is crucial in maintaining store performance and enhanced revenues. Store managers can facilitate intelligent shift swapping by taking into consideration their employee’s needs and preferences. Understanding employee preferences is key to creating better schedules that can lead to lower unplanned absenteeism. This will lead to a happier workforce, who are more engaged and productive, and with reduced tendencies of taking unplanned leaves. Employers can empower their workforce to change or swap shifts as needed, to accrue greater benefits when it comes to decreasing unplanned absenteeism.
While shift swapping is happening across global retail organizations, the process varies greatly. Therefore, to create an efficient scheduling system it is important to enable methods to support self-service shift swapping, which can reduce last-minute call-outs and no-shows, and remove the need to schedule additional labour to cover for anticipated absences (something 88 percent of retailers do today). This can help managers free up time on administrative work and instead focus more on employee development and customer satisfaction. For employees, they are happier to be in control of their own schedules.
Adopting advanced AI and Machine Learning (ML) based workforce solutions to improve automated shift swapping is the need of the hour. These solutions accept requests based on business rules and learned patterns, while avoiding potential overtime or compliance issues.
Happy staff, happy store
The key to sustainable success is to develop a staffing and operating model that considers the combined needs of the business - its workforce, and its customers, and helps maintain an equilibrum between them. If store managers make smart hiring decisions, stabilize schedules, and utilize technology that enables employees to autonomously cover open shifts, then they are freed up to focus on training and developing associates, interacting with customers, and promoting a positive team environment. Truly a win-win situation!
The article has been penned down by James Thomas, Country Manager, India, Kronos Incorporated