As retailers improve the balance between their business’ demands, and their associate needs and convenience, associates’ engagement, happiness and productivity increase. These are the left and right hands of any retail operation.
And few aspects of the hourly associate’s experience yield greater benefits than improving scheduling – the backbone of hourly associates’ work-life balance. Happier associates will share that happiness wherever they interact with customers. The experience for both gets better as associates’ jobs complement the rest of their lives. Retention, even in high-turnover industries, gets better, too.
But how do employers put this into practice? It starts with focusing more on providing tools and solutions for associates to easily manage their time and schedules, providing them with added flexibility. Not only do these tools help to improve the employer-associate relationship, but they also benefit customers by virtue of having more engaged associates delivering successfully on customer experience, and overall performance through improved associate productivity. A Gallup meta-analysis found a strong correlation between engagement and company performance. Companies operating in the top quartile in terms of employee engagement outperformed bottom-quartile units by 10% on customer ratings, 22% in profitability, and 21% in productivity.
Here are three areas through which employers can improve work-life balance for hourly associates through scheduling.
Erratic scheduling and unpredictable hours can demoralize staff, detract from customers’ experience, and do damage retail brands previously known for treating their workforce well. “Clopening,” for instance – whereby associates must open a store the next morning after closing the previous evening – can erode goodwill fast, as do any other scheduling practice that disrupts associates’ work–life balance. Retention and associate morale decreases. Engagement plummets. Recruiting suffers. The dynamic plays out in any industry invested heavily in customer-facing hourly staff.
For scheduling to be successful from both an associate and customer experience perspective, managers and associates need better communication, information, and insights to plan more accurately. Having better more accurate visibility of how factors like location, historical sales, seasonality, expected customer traffic, and associate skills and availability affect your retail operation takes the burden off managers and associates by making scheduling less sporadic. For example, if there’s a weekend where you’ll be short on people, or perhaps it’s a busy day versus a quiet one, managers can plan more accurately in advance with the confidence to avoid last minute changes. In addition, better labor spend optimization can help fill lulls in in-store work with the increasing work from the digital store channel of unified commerce. Poor planning places the burden on associates to fill the gaps (clopening, call-ins, call-offs, and inconsistent rewards, etc.).
Research from the Corporate Executive Board (which represents 80% of the Fortune 500 companies) found that associates who believe they have a good work-life balance work 21% harder than those who don’t, after researching 50,000 global workers.
While it’s true that associates who consistently work overtime will experience decreased productivity and burnout, underused associates will become disengaged. Both scenarios result in reduced productivity and higher turnover.
How can managers address this? Make sure the right people are doing the right things at the right time. One way to do this is through task management. Not only do you get a clear understanding of which skills are required for certain tasks within your operation, but you can assign them to the most qualified people on your team. Insights gained from task management – such as tracking time to complete certain tasks – also help managers to plan and schedule appropriately, and understand which associates are most productive in the areas of the business.
Relying on manual or paper-based systems creates headaches and roadblocks for everyone. On the employer side, it hinders their ability to optimize scheduling and achieve operational excellence. From an associate perspective, today’s workers and work environments demand interaction through improved visibility and communication in the form factor most used by the associates – mobile self-service that integrates with their native phone of choice.
Associates want visibility into the work they have performed, time away and effective dated availability, the work that is planned, and they come to loathe the unpredictability of systems that lack this. Associate engagement is a function of the company culture, what discretionary investment they make, and the systems in place to reinforce the commitment to improved engagement. Dispirited associates do not get the sense of caring from their employer and will eventually quit. While they stay, they are often unhappy which detrimentally impacts the company service, performance, and brand equity in the markets they serve. The customer’s experience declines. Profits follow.
Mobile or on-the-go technology not only empowers managers, but also empowers associates as well. In fact, productivity improves by 20-25% in organizations with connected employees. Managers can more easily collaborate and communicate with associates, while associates can easily switch shifts, see upcoming schedules, communicate about time-off requests, and receive feedback and messages from their managers. Empowered associates are more engaged, more productive, and, simply, happier.
Organizations that embrace new strategies and technology innovations will have the flexibility required to run a dynamic retail operation, meet the demands of customer service, and accommodate the skills and desires of associates. A commitment to associate engagement and work-life balance demands a commitment to investing in the systems and environments that support it. Scheduling becomes fair, equitable, and predictable. Associates’ day-to-day work life gets better. Job satisfaction increases, and so does productivity, engagement, and loyalty. And, importantly, customers notice.