We recently hosted a number of clients in our Melbourne office, where we assembled a panel of experts to unpack some of the challenges of workforce planning in the retail sector.

It’s an ongoing issue. Retail is Australia’s largest employer – with a mix of full-time, part-time, casual and contract staff in a seasonal marketplace that is highly sensitive to trends. The ability to be responsive and adaptable – not only in your offering, but also in how you staff your workplace and support your people – is essential to long-term success.

Andrew Myers (Vice-President of Asia-Pacific for digital workplace provider WorkJam), Nathan Reynolds (VP and Country Manager for human capital software company Ceridian), and Steve Netherclift (Head of Workforce Planning Grant Thornton Consulting) each brought distinct insight from their individual perspectives on how retailers can better engage their staff, drive profitability and respond to a rapidly changing industry.

Compliance is paramount to effective risk management

The very topical starting point was compliance. Specifically, the imperative for retailers to pay their team members in accordance with the law. A number of Australian retail and hospitality organisations have recently fallen foul in this area, with multiple cases of staff underpayment made public.

So how do retailers ensure they are acting in a compliant manner? Steve Netherclift outlined three fundamental elements to a comprehensive plan:

  1. companies must develop a clear interpretation of the rules and a simple means of communicating and training their teams in line with this;
  2. companies should create a centralised capability to support retail leaders in the field; and
  3. retailers should develop robust assurance processes to ratify compliance with target operations, rules and correct payment.

Driving efficiencies through an engaged workforce

Today’s tech-savvy generation demand information at their fingertips, meaning direct communication and engagement is more important than ever before. Moreover, an engaged workforce is sticky and less transactional, and more likely to remain with their employer.

Andrew Myers gave some great examples of how WorkJam can help retailers digitally embrace their workforce and provide them better ways of interacting with their employer. Using the WorkJam app, employees can use their own devices to connect to both head office and their peers, managers able to share real-time communications with distributed store teams, and also for store-based employees to provide immediate feedback to management. Rostering and shift management can now be passed directly to employees, with appropriately-trained team members able to bid for available shifts in an open marketplace.

Finally – and this is where it really gets interesting – employees can move from a traditional model where they work shifts at a particular store location, to an environment where they can choose shifts from a range of stores in their local area and increase their hours if desired. The power of the employer-employee relationship has truly shifted toward the employee. Where once a manager allocated shifts to team members he or she liked, it is now the employee who will choose to work shifts at stores where they most enjoy working.

Optimising your workforce rostering to drive sales

Store team wages remain one of the largest costs for a retailer, so ensuring that wages are best aligned to drive sales is fundamental. Systemised staff rostering tools such as Ceridian’s Dayforce, can develop sales forecasts to help retailers schedule labour when it is most needed. Nathan Reynolds went further, providing examples of how such tools can also suggest that targeted increases in store labour can help drive sales uplifts. Importantly, rostering solutions can integrate with apps like WorkJam to truly enhance the employee experience to ‘uberise’ self-allocation of shifts for appropriately-trained team members.

It’s clear that in order to truly succeed, retailers must concurrently address all three challenges – compliance, engagement and optimisation.

With the growth in online retail, traditional bricks and mortar retailers have been forced to consider the customer experience – and how to reach their customers in a meaningful way. It’s no surprise that as a result, the employees have become more important than ever to drive this direction.