Over the last two years, the retail industry has been operating in survival mode. Many employees were turned into ‘essential workers’ overnight, tasked with additional cleaning, facing customer aggression and abuse, or acting as front-of-house security guards to ensure people were vaccinated and checked in for contact tracing.
Heading into our third year of the pandemic, the focus is now shifting to living and working with the virus. The retail workplaces that will come out on top in 2022 understand that the power dynamics have shifted and human-centric leadership needs to be at the core of every business decision.
Flexible work is here to stay
Whether we were employees, leaders, executives, or business owners at the start of the pandemic, the majority of us had to adapt to different modes of working – and this demand for flexibility is here to stay.
Research from PwC (2021) reports that 45 per cent of Australian workers say changed attitudes towards remote working will transform the way people work in the next 3-5 years, with only 10 per cent favouring a traditional work environment with no remote sites.
Data from McKinsey & Co shows that C-suite executives expect an increase in hybrid work in the future. Up to 40 per cent of executives estimate that employees will spend only 21-50 per cent of their time on their employer’s premises. Another 40 per cent believe employees will spend 51-80 per cent of their time on their employer’s premises.
While not every retail role can be conducted from home, research also indicates that not all Australians want to work remotely all the time. A key 2020 insight from the NSW Innovation and Productivity Council on the future of work shows that the state’s workers preferred to work two to three days a week from home. This ideal home/office split is also mirrored in global data. According to an Iometrics survey (2020), participants who worked half a day from home each week pre-pandemic now prefer to work 2-3 days a week from home. Younger workers would like to work from home less (1.4 days a week) than Generation X workers (2.5 days a week), for career progression and networking opportunities.
With remote work here to stay, the onus is on organisations to formalise a hybrid working structure and develop a culture of support around it. If your retail operation is entirely digital, it’s worth considering how remote working policies could affect younger generations and lead to fewer career opportunities for those who may opt to work remotely for large parts of their careers, like working mothers.
Employee wellbeing in focus
Covid-19 has been instrumental in opening up meaningful conversations about wellbeing in the workplace, and employers are recognising that the demands on individual workers are ever-shifting. It’s been encouraging to see the many changes that have come about from the challenges that businesses have faced due to the pandemic.
With the evidence supporting the idea that flexible work will continue this year, workplace leaders should look to create a more inclusive remote experience and a culture that prioritises holistic employee wellbeing.
At the end of 2021, companies were offering employees previously unheard of perks, like round-the-world plane tickets, sign-on bonuses and additional paid leave, to retain and attract talent. While it’s still being debated whether we’ll see the Great Resignation trend hitting our shores, there’s no denying the balance of power has shifted to the employee, and this trend will continue into 2022.
With this changing power structure and a burned-out workforce, employers face workers jumping ship to other organisations if they don’t consider a human approach. People want to be seen and recognised for their contributions rather than their productivity. The pandemic showed us how effective remote work could be, and there’s no going back. People want autonomy over their lives. And to be trusted to get the job done in a way that works for them.
While greater financial compensation isn’t off the table, career advancement, collaboration, purpose, and personalisation remain essential pillars to the employee experience, as is building managers’ ability to lead well. Managers need the tools to deal with not only ongoing disruption but also the challenge of embedding new ways of working and managing a remote or dispersed workforce.
Investing in manager capability
Managers directly affect employees’ day-to-day work experience by assigning workloads, setting expectations, and providing resources and support, so investing in manager capability and support will have a positive trickle-down effect in the workplace.
While the initial switch to flexible work enabled us to be productive at home, work-life boundaries blurred, leading to increased work engagement and difficulties switching off from work commitments. This led to increased work-family conflict and higher levels of stress, particularly where a worker was managing other non-work-related responsibilities, such as adult carer responsibilities and childcare.
Managers need to ensure they keep communicating their needs and expectations and keep checking their employees’ needs and expectations, setting up a shared understanding that people should always ask, rather than assume.
Employers face regulatory responsibilities to ensure workplaces are safe and healthy; this includes the protection of employees’ physical and psychosocial wellbeing while working from home. Taking the time to deeply understand the circumstances of each employee and how the pandemic is affecting them helps build trust, demonstrates support, and creates that all-important environment of psychological safety.
We know that mentally healthy workplaces are good for business. Deloitte data shows that staff turnover costs Australia an estimated $3.8 billion in lost productivity and $385 million in avoidable recruitment costs each year. Investing in the right digital tools and technology will help your team function well in 2022. Investing in building a healthy and resilient team focusing on employee wellbeing will pay dividends.