Retail Recruitment and Retention – Four Strategies for Success

Retail staff

The staffing crisis is a defining characteristic of our times, presenting organisations across sectors with serious, sometimes existential, challenges. Across the EU, job vacancy rates rose steadily from 1.6% in Q2 2020 to a peak of 3% two years later before dropping back only slightly to 2.8% in Q4 2022. Meanwhile, the UK saw almost 450,000 job-to-job resignations in Q2 2022 alone. 

The challenge 

Many workers left their retail, hospitality, and food service jobs during the pandemic and, having found better pay or greater working flexibility, have yet to return. Front-line jobs in retail often attract only minimum wage, while other options often offer better pay, which retailers typically can’t match. 

Ethical concerns are increasingly a priority across society, and workers unhappy with their employer’s approach to diversity, the environment or other ethical issues often seek alternative employment, as do those who feel their jobs lack purpose or meaning. As businesses seek to work with the much-discussed “new normal”, the gig economy is creating further retention challenges, allowing employees to leave retail for other sectors relatively quickly. 

Additionally, because of the shortage of workers, the sector has diverse opportunities for better pay, greater flexibility, more congruent ethics, or a more convenient commute or hours. Let’s explore four ways in which businesses can attract and retain the right workers, addressing talent shortages and bringing staff turnover under control. 

1. Create a purpose 

Pay was once the principal driver for workers. Today, people want a company culture aligned with their own, purpose and meaning in their work, and flexibility – something that historically, retailers have not offered to the same extent as some of their competitors. According to UKG Great Place to Work research, the best employers give their people purpose – confidence that their work makes a real difference. They are more likely to be recommended to others by their workers, typically perform better than their competition, and retain more of their talent. 

Three objectives are key: 

  • Create an environment where workers feel valued, see the value of their work, and understand how they’re making a difference and contributing to the company’s mission. 
  • Clearly communicate, in branding and marketing communications, primarily when recruiting, how workers make a real difference in the business, the community and the wider world. 
  • Prioritise Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) – society has seen an increasing focus on and care about such issues, and workers value them more each year. 

2. Hire to retain 

As well as being technically qualified for their proposed roles, candidates should also be likely to become long-standing, committed employees. Cultural fit is vital. Candidates should share the company’s values, believe in its vision, and be motivated by their new team’s work. 

Psychometrics help build profiles of the team’s current and desired culture and hiring to secure the ideal mix of behaviours, motivators, and work styles. Existing team members should be consulted to help ensure that the right individuals are selected. This will also help enhance transparency and communication and involve employees in decisions affecting them. 

3. Establish open and safe communication 

Poor employer/employee communication can be a significant irritation for workers. They should feel confident in raising their opinions and concerns and that action will be taken when they do. 

Employers should provide mechanisms for open, honest discussion. One-on-one meetings, stay interviews, and other meaningful conversations help build a sense of belonging and being valued and facilitate issue resolution. Mobile apps hosting pulse surveys, employee appreciation posts, peer interest groups, and more can help here. 

Employees should be encouraged to be open about their job searches. If the company knows when a worker is looking, they can explain why they should stay, possibly offering new opportunities within the business. 

4. Adopt enabling technologies 

Today’s workforce management tools can dramatically improve employee experiences, enabling safe communication, enhancing hiring processes, and much more, helping bring in and retain the best people. The range of potential applications is vast, so we’ll explore some popular examples here. 

Shifts have traditionally been planned at a store or local area level. Still, today’s tools allow retailers to provide flexibility across more expansive areas, for example, offering student employees shifts in their hometowns during the holidays. 

Today’s workforce management tools also allow onboarding to be administered as a single process – generating the contract and sending it to the candidate, having them electronically sign and return it, giving them access to onboarding information and inviting them to orientation sessions, and more – and then on through their entire time at the company. This accelerates the process, enhances the employee experience, and reduces management workload. 

Addressing the recruitment and retention challenge is essential across the retail, hospitality, and food service sectors.

Read UKG’s latest eBook, ‘Four Steps Blueprint for Retail Success – Innovating People Operations’, to learn best practices and more.