By Sandra Moran, Chief Marketing and Customer Experience Officer at WorkForce Software
The promise of the holidays keeps workers going in December, they celebrate with Christmas and New Year – and then comes January and February to bring employees back down to earth with the return to work, poor weather and squeezed bank accounts. January is also the time when most people consider changing or leaving jobs – this is partly true for retail workers who had a stressful Christmas period.
With many retail workers left exhausted at the end of every working day, this stress is only enhanced by peak shopping seasons, leaving many employees to suffer at the hands of burnout. This therefore increases staff turnover and consequently ramps up businesses’ recruitment costs.
However, this retail challenge may have a compelling solution as flexible work arrangements like annualised flexible working begins to trend.
Annualised hours: the key to increased flexibility
The idea behind annualised hours is that employees have an annual number of contract hours to be worked but work a variable number of hours each week to meet the fluctuations in demand. In short, hours ramp up to meet higher demand during busy retail seasons and scale back during slower periods to prevent employee burnout.
The hours worked each week will be scheduled within both the bounds of the scheme (employee contract, min and max hours per day and week) and individual employees’ availability. However, traditional contracts often cap the number of hours an employee can work per week, which can make it difficult for organisations to adjust staffing levels in response to varying customer demand.
For organisations trying to adopt annualised programs, this lack of flexibility is further exacerbated by forecasting andscheduling tools that can’t accurately predict demand variations and the optimal staffing levels to meet customer service expectations. This is often combined with a lack of digital records of the levels of working-hour flexibility offered by employees, (which modern scheduling solutions could utilise), and finally costly temporary recruitment during peak seasons like the summer holidays and festive periods.
Leveraging data for predictive staffing needs
Seasonal recruitment can prove lengthy and costly for retailers. Without digital records to accurately predict staffing needs, it is difficult to determine the number of additional staff required and the timing of when they’ll prove most helpful.
By utilising digital mobile scheduling tools, employees can manage their own availability leading to improved work/life balance and higher levels of flexibility, which overall reduces the likelihood of burnout and fatigue during peak periods.
The benefits are felt by employers too, as this data can be used to reduce premium overtime and temporary recruitment costs, and fully utilise permanent employees who are prepared for peak periods, whilst providing flexible hours to foster employee retention and satisfaction.
The benefits of workforce management systems
Communication is key especially during peak seasonal periods to avoid staff burnout or employee concerns going unnoticed. No, this doesn’t mean setting up a WhatsApp group for staff or complicating the process with an official survey from HQ. The optimal way to enable two-way and always-on communication is through modern workforce management systems.
These technologies offer a means of real-time communication, enabling both employees and managers to quickly adapt to changing schedules and last-minute challenges. This allows management to more effectively balance employee desires and operational needs, while complying with regulations and company policy.
Modern workforce management systems can also be used to protect employee’s wellbeing – which is especially important during the busier times of year. For example, fatigue management systems can monitor hours worked, breaks taken, and time off scheduled to flag employees that may be at risk of burnout. This can then automatically send real-time notifications to managers, helping them to stay informed on potential employee wellness issues in a more efficient way.
Overall, with the right flexible work model and optimised scheduling technology, retailers can conquer the peaks in customer demand cycles. Existing employees stay more engaged across the full year, and customers enjoy improved service from happy, well-informed workers, not stopgap seasonal hires. When leveraged strategically, flexibility is the future of retail.