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Andrew Jones

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Why retail leaders have reason to be worried about productivity

Flagging motivation and mass resignations in the retail sector are cause for concern so how can HR help boost company productivity?

Across many sectors, there has been a recent shift in corporate strategy away from survival and towards growth which comes with its own set of challenges. Integral to growth is maximising the productivity of teams, although this has – in many cases – been hampered by rising numbers of employees leaving their posts in ‘The Great Resignation’.

Identifying the pain points

Agility in Mind commissioned research in conjunction with global research house, Censuswide, to look at where some of the pain points for managers are, especially in terms of the productivity of their teams. It found that 68% of retail leaders are concerned about this issue – the most of any sector and significantly higher than the cross-industry average of 51% of decision makers who feel this way.

Employees who feel good about their jobs are more productive at work and better for the company

In addition, nearly three quarters (73%) of retail leaders are worried about engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, second only to the sales and marketing (79%) sector. The least worried sector is arts and culture at 32%.

Finding the root cause of the issue

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has pointed out that a huge shift to online sales initially increased productivity as retailers were able to operate with fewer workers. However, sector giants such as Next, ASOS and Boohoo have been speaking out about higher shipping prices, recent widespread supply chain issues and ongoing staff shortages which have cast a shadow over this success.

Our own research indicated that 86% of retail bosses wish to find new ways to improve employee productivity, engagement, and motivation but nearly half (4%) don’t have the time or aren’t sure how to approach this. Only 14% of retail leaders believe that these improvements are not a priority or an issue currently facing their businesses.

It’s clear that many leaders in the retail sector are aware that they play a part in the productivity of their teams but may not know how to engage with this effectively or efficiently. Especially as new ways of working take hold, the path to productivity may appear to be winding – or at least a little different for each employee. And this is where HR teams have a huge – and growing – role to play.

Applying an agile mindset to find solutions

A universal truth across all sectors is that employees who feel good about their jobs are more productive at work and better for the company, helping to drive it forward. Important ways for HR teams to support this is by making sure employees feel connected to the wider company mission, helping them to align with the vision and encouraging managers to set clear shared goals to achieve it.

Areas where individuals may feel disconnected are varied but usually revolve around the ethics of an organisation

Areas where individuals may feel disconnected are varied but usually revolve around the ethics of an organisation. Keeping a tab on how employees feel about companies’ diversity and sustainability initiatives is important, as well as making sure that those working remotely are still being heard, developed and encouraged appropriately.

When looking at teams’ performances as well as hiring and employee development strategies, questions which must be considered are:

  • Are you clear about the skills you need now and in the future, and are you investing in people to achieve this?
  • Do you question the lasting impact of your leaders’ behaviour on the hearts and minds of others?
  • Do you celebrate diversity in its many facets instead of hiring like-minded people?
  • Is enough being done to support remote workers and are their managers comfortable with the process and their responsibilities?
  • Do you have the systems and processes in place to support people as you scale?

The news rules of productivity

As ‘the Great Resignation’ takes hold and numbers of employees leaving their positions soar, fostering a collusive atmosphere where achievements are celebrated is key to bringing teams together and inspiring loyalty and productivity. The need for HR teams to have a strong focus on employee engagement is critical to the future economic success of the UK as retail businesses will generally continue to ‘adapt or die’ in the next chapter of the pandemic.

The retail sector must focus on its employee retention, putting people back at the heart of what they do

Especially as so many are working from home, great communication is an important part of this process in order to make sure priorities are being set and that team members are accountable. A starting point in maximising productivity is in considering which metrics would be most appropriate to track it. For example, understanding what you mean when using the word ‘productivity’ – is it in the hours someone works or the outcomes they achieve? 

Businesses are being challenged to think differently, to value each employee’s potential and build teams which have both diversity of thought and complimentary skillsets. The retail sector especially must focus on its employee retention, putting people back at the heart of what they do. Those who achieve this are likely to pull ahead of their competition.

Interested in this topic? Read Four ways to boost employee morale this winter.


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