How to drive brand advocacy in frontline workers (hint: the answer isn’t hiring bonuses!)

How to drive brand advocacy in frontline workers (hint: the answer isn’t hiring bonuses!)

In case you missed it, last week we shared Nudge COO Jordan Ekers’ three-step plan for driving discretionary effort in frontline workers:

“Frontline organizations, particularly in retail, hospitality, and foodservice, are in rebuild mode. They’re up against a perfect storm, with supply chain delays and shortages, changing consumer behavior, and many other challenges. And while finding and retaining staff is part of the solution, a much bigger effort should be placed on empowering existing staff to go the extra mile. Because if you have your staff on board, collectively working to drive your core mission, increase revenue, and constantly deliver next-level customer and guest experience… you’re going to jump leaps and bounds in front of the competition. And that’s the magic of discretionary effort.” 

And step one in this process? Culturally inspiring your workforce. “How do you inspire them to fall in love with the brand that they choose to work for, so that they care about their job, the brand, and the customer experience,” Ekers wrote. “How, in other words, do you transform an entire workforce into brand advocates?”

So that’s what we’ll talk about today: how to transform your workforce into brand advocates. 

Of course, it’s not easy. Culturally inspiring at scale has its challenges, especially when a workforce numbers in the thousands – or tens of thousands – dispersed across the globe. And, let’s face it: we’re in challenging times. Allocating time, energy, and budget toward driving brand advocacy among frontline workers is often an uphill battle.

Speaking of budget, here’s one pitfall you can avoid: hiring bonuses. You’ve likely seen posters and billboards all over; brands like Papa John’s and Disney World are offering cash (from $50 to over $6,000 for more specialty positions) for new hires that meet specific criteria, like staying on for a certain amount of time. 

Are hiring bonuses getting the attention of frontline candidates? Yes. Are they going to magically transform your staff into the brand advocates you need for long-term success? Likely not. 

In a (dated, but still relevant) article for Harvard Business Review, author and lecturer Alfie Kohn cited a series of studies run by Northwestern University that attempted to test the “bonus effect” and whether or not it actually works. 

“What they found was both straightforward and remarkably consistent,” wrote Kohn. “When people are promised a monetary reward for doing a task well, the primary outcome is that they get more excited about money. This happens even when they don’t meet the standard for getting paid.”

In other words, it doesn’t get at the core driver of brand advocacy: cultural inspiration. 

Because culturally inspiring your staff doesn’t come from compensation – at least, not compensation alone. It comes from answering one simple question: “Why.” Why should your employees care about their job? Why should they want your organization to succeed? Why should they care? The answer to that question might be, in part, a competitive employee compensation and benefits – but there’s so much more to it. 

Here are 3 ways to culturally inspire your workforce to drive brand advocacy:

1. Support your staff’s mental health 

Food service and retail have always been stressful jobs, but now it’s even more so. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the additional burden employees face because of staffing challenges, they are under more pressure than ever. A recent interview with food expert Sylvain Charlebois goes deeper into into the challenges facing foodservice workers: 

“They have been showing up to work every day generally unsure as to the safety and security of their jobs as well as the health of the businesses they’re working for. In addition, many of their jobs and the way they used to do things changed overnight. The ways they interact with and serve the customer changed. Some establishments also introduced new services like curbside pickup which requires new skills, new equipment and new ways of doing things. As a result, many had to essentially retrain themselves, on the fly, in order to continue doing their job effectively. It’s all caused an incredible amount of stress and adds up to a big mental health issue that operators within the foodservice sector have got to address.”

In fact, the Foodservice Deskless Report found that burnout is one of the top three reasons employees in this industry want to quit. But prioritizing mental health is about so much more than retaining staff. As Josh Bersin puts it, employee mental health is no longer an HR KPI – it’s a business strategy: “Before you delegate the mental health issue to the benefits department, let me suggest something else. This is a responsibility of leadership (who also feel stressed out), so look at it as a strategy. If you, as a leadership team, can focus on mental health first, financial success will likely follow.”

2. Foster a sense of community

Frontline employees spend a huge chunk of their lives at work, so it makes sense that they would want to feel like they belong. In fact, 60% of deskless workers would like to have a stronger community with workers outside of their location. Being connected would improve both morale and retention significantly. Need proof? 38% of polled workers feel that a strong workplace community would make them more engaged and motivated. And according to Gallup, engaged employees are far more likely to stay. They found that business units in high-turnover organizations have 24% less turnover than non-engaged business units.

3. Review how information is flowing

If there was one major takeaway from last year’s Deskless Report, it’s that there’s a huge disconnect between workers and leaders on the effectiveness of internal communication. Frontline workers are desperate for more information about company updates, product information, you name it. And, unfortunately, insufficient or unclear information leads to uncertainty, which leads to stress – which isn’t going to foster brand advocates. 

Ineffective communication is also a missed opportunity for sharing the “why” – for baking your brand mission and core values into everything you share. On the other hand, when you can connect a company update or task back to the core question of “why”… you’re well on your way to culturally inspiring your staff. 

But for the “why” to resonate, your communication needs to be flowing effectively and consistently. 

A hiring bonus may be flashy and draw lots of attention (and press!), but it alone won’t help drive discretionary effort by fostering brand advocates. 

For that, you need to culturally inspire your staff by answering that one magic question, again and again: “why.”

6 ways to use internal communication to drive frontline employee retention

6 ways to use internal communication to drive frontline employee retention

Employee retention is a challenge that every organization faces, but the pandemic, the labor crisis, The Great Resignation and other challenges has put additional strain on frontline organizations trying to stay staffed and keep operations running smoothly. 

According to The Deskless Report, turnover remains the number one challenge facing deskless organizations. 36% of workers polled currently want to quit their jobs – and that number is even higher in retail, foodservice, and facilities management. 

We’ve explored a lot of the ways that frontline organizations, particularly in retail and foodservice, can engage and retain staff by giving their workers what they want – everything from training and development and DE&I to wellness programs and employee community.  

But it all starts with something more foundational: communication. After all, you can’t develop, disseminate, and foster any of the aforementioned programs without a way to communicate them to your workers. But unfortunately, a strong line of communication isn’t always in place. According to deskless leaders polled for The Deskless Report, the biggest barrier between head office and frontline workers is communication. 

Which means that a lot of frontline organizations are missing out on a great (and surprisingly easy) way to drive employee retention. 

So today, let’s fix that. Here are 6 ways to drive employee retention through effective internal communication. 

Retention tactic #1: Dive into the magical world of gamification

Who doesn’t love a good game? A points system can have massive impacts on engagement, brand loyalty, and employee retention – whether or not you implement a rewards program with it. 

The concept of gamification in the workforce isn’t anything new. It’s simply offering up points for actions that you want to encourage your staff to take, such as answering a survey or quiz, reading an employee memo or watching a training video. And it works. According to TalentLMS’s 2019 Gamification at Work survey, using gamification tactics at work makes 88% of employees feel happier and 89% of employees feel more productive. What’s more, 87% of employees surveyed said that having “game elements make me feel socially connected and provide a sense of belonging.” 

Engaging employees through internal communication and adding an element of gamification requires a few basic components, including goals and badges, transparency, competition, and community. It’s also important to ensure walkthroughs and explanations are made available to everyone, so it’s a level playing field. 

If you’re opting to use rewards, keep in mind that prizes don’t always have to have a “traditional” monetary value associated with them. One recommendation from TalentLMS is to offer “small, quality-of-life rewards, like a voucher for a lunch out or an extra day off,” that can be awarded in tandem with recognition from senior leadership or head office. 

Retention tactic #2: Meet staff where they already are – their phones

Have we already touched on this? Yes. Is it important? Also, yes. When your workforce is deskless it’s important to send communications where your employees will get them. 

A few fun facts from The Deskless Report: whether or not it’s permitted, 91% of workers are using their phones at work, with 47% checking their phone 1-2 times per hour. But a whopping 60% of workers said they’re using their phones during shifts for, well, work – work-related communication, or finding work-related information.

Another report found that 70% of deskless workers feel that more technology would help them do their jobs better, and 60% are unsatisfied with, or believe there’s room for improvement in, the technology they’re provided to do their job. 

Workers want to use their phones to do their job, and when organizations don’t allow or condone it, it makes it harder for workers to get their job done – and that leads to disengagement, and turnover. 

So the takeaway here: Creating engaging, fun internal communications is important. But when your workforce is deskless it’s important to distribute these communications where your employees will get them. And, that’s their smartphone. Using smartphones to communicate with your frontline and deskless workers also means you can share information in real-time with them, when it’s most relevant to them, especially since they don’t typically have access to company emails or intranet sites during their shifts. Bonus: employees using BYOD are proven to actually save time at work. 

Retention tactic #3: Every employee has a story to tell… So tell them!

Deskless workers are often more removed from the corporate setting – and removed from each other. Despite having thousands of coworkers, frontline and deskless employees likely only know a handful of team members, and usually only the ones who work at the same location or on the same shifts. In fact, according to The Deskless report, 60% of frontline workers would like to have a strong community with employees outside their location.  

This is why building an employee community can be an easy win for boosting employee engagement and driving employee retention. And a great way to build an employee community is to bring in their own voices into your communications. This might mean day-in-the-life posts, where employees record their day with video and photos while on the job; it might mean having workers guest-write posts on your communication platform or newsletter; or it might even mean conducting interviews with employees to help the broader community learn more about each other. 

Not only does this kind of internal communication campaign help your staff feel seen and heard – it helps forge relationships between regions, locations, and individual workers that will make them feel more connected and loyal to the company as a whole. 

Retention tactic #4: Use Ask-Me-Anythings (AMAs) to make senior leadership more approachable

In large organizations with thousands of employees, it’s easy to forget the type of information that some workers might find valuable. Opening up communication so that everyone can ask questions and address any concerns can mitigate issues before they become bigger. It also provides a chance for head office to become more visible to the frontline workforce and increase that sense of connection and community. 

Enter the wonderful world of ask-me-anythings. Running a senior leadership AMA at your frontline organization is an effective way to learn what employees want to know about, not just what you think they should know about. 

“Do I ever end up squirming up there? Sure. There are plenty of times when I’ve been caught entirely off-guard. But that’s precisely the point. The element of surprise is the secret ingredient that makes the internal AMA such a valuable tool,” explains Shopify president Harley Finkelstein, in a Forbers article on why he started a regular AMA with his employees

“When your company scales beyond a certain size, it’s easy to lose touch with what’s relevant for people at different levels of your organization. In this sense, the AMA is a powerful way to collapse corporate hierarchies and ensure that all perspectives — not just those from the top — are heard.”

Retention tactic #5: Go interactive with channels for upward communication and feedback

Gathering upward feedback from your team can go a long way to boosting employee morale and strengthening their engagement. Plus, surveys and quizzes have the added benefit of adding an interactive element, which is key for effective internal communication. 

With pointed questions, multiple choice answers as well as open-field options, your deskless workers across the company can feel as though their voice matters and that their feedback and opinions are important to the company’s growth. These can identify knowledge gaps that you can fill with future communications, as well as identify opportunities you might not have thought of previously. 

Another benefit is quizzes and surveys allow you to test knowledge rates and identify gaps that need to be addressed either with further communication or more training. It’s also a great way to measure readiness and confidence in an open-ended way by taking a temperature check of sorts with your employees, this can go a long way in improving confidence and boosting employee loyalty and retention. 

Retention tactic #6: Focus on task execution and consistency

Think internal communication is just about company updates and HR initiatives? Think again. Forward-thinking frontline organizations use their internal communications to also drive operational consistency and task execution. 

Think about it this way: your staff wants to do their job well. And they don’t like it when their role and tasks are too ambiguous. As Dr. Wendi Adair, Professor of Organizational Psychology, puts it in our Q&A on employee communication:

“Information is power. If you have information, it makes you feel capable and able to do what you need to do. It makes you feel able to help other employees. And that gives you a sense of well-being. We talk about it as power, but it’s really feelings of capability and competence and confidence. And then on the flip side is when you don’t have enough information. So maybe there’s something about your role that’s ambiguous. You don’t know exactly how you’re supposed to go about doing a certain procedure or task. Or maybe you have role conflicts – you have different supervisors asking you to attend to different things and you haven’t been given clear instructions on how to prioritize. That lack of information leads to feelings of uncertainty. Which leads to stress, and would decrease employees’ psychological well-being.”

And, of course, no one likes to feel stressed. When a workforce doesn’t have a clear sense of roles and tasks, there’s a much higher risk for turnover. On the other hand, when organizations leverage a internal communication tool or platform that clearly assigns tasks and reinforces processes (psst… we know of a great one), employee productivity, engagement, and retention will soar. 

The more interactive and engaging your communications, the better received they’ll be by your frontline staff. And the better they are received, the more of an impact they’ll have on your employee retention. It may be a bit more challenging but also very rewarding – for you and them.

The Great Unburdening: Understanding employee burnout in foodservice

The Great Unburdening: Understanding employee burnout in foodservice

The past few years have been an extremely difficult period for many frontline workers,  leading to employee burnout in a number of different industries and roles. And it’s no surprise – the pandemic and associated impacts have influenced and, at times, altogether changed the ways we do things. 

But some of the most significantly affected are restaurant workers. Not only are they navigating an ever-evolving landscape and environment, they also need to do so burdened with longer work hours and staffing issues resulting in greater responsibility within their jobs. It’s a combination that Sylvain Charlebois, food industry expert and Senior Director at the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, says is resulting in employee burnout and stress.

“Employee burnout within the foodservice industry has become a big problem that employers need to figure out,” says Charlebois. 

“The sector has been under tremendous pressure, battling rising food prices, supply chain issues, and heightened guest expectations. And all of this is happening during a labor crisis. The past couple of years, which have consisted of daily changing market conditions, have resulted in a great deal of uncertainty for everyone involved. Many restaurants have closed for good. Some of them were institutions. This kind of unpredictability causes overwhelming anxiety for many.”

Causes of employee burnout in restaurant workers

Charlebois explains that there are a number of factors that are contributing to the employee burnout currently threatening the foodservice industry. First and foremost, as a result of an ongoing labor shortage, many restaurants and other foodservice establishments have been operating understaffed, some of them severely so. This places undue pressures on staff who are expected to pick up the slack left behind by departed colleagues. And, of course, the fallout from the COVID-19 global pandemic has also taken its toll on foodservice employees, resulting in what Charlebois describes as a “larger mental health issue.”

“Impacts of the pandemic have resulted in a great deal of uncertainty for many restaurant employees within the foodservice sector,” he says. 

“They’ve been showing up to work every day generally unsure as to the safety and security of their jobs as well as the health of the businesses they’re working for. In addition, many of their jobs and the way they used to do things changed overnight. The ways they interact with and serve the customer changed. Some establishments also introduced new services like curbside pickup which requires new skills, new equipment and new ways of doing things. As a result, many had to essentially retrain themselves, on the fly, in order to continue doing their job effectively. It’s all caused an incredible amount of stress and adds up to a big mental health issue that operators within the foodservice sector have got to address.”

How employee burnout impacts foodservice organizations

The negative effects of poor mental health for individuals are obvious and debilitating. And, for organizations, the impacts can also be detrimental, stunting productivity and hindering progress and growth. However, Charlebois points out perhaps the most draining impact that a burnt-out workforce can have on an organization is the increased turnover that it invariably causes. 

Wellness program developer Limeade’s 2021 survey talked specifically to employees who started a new job in 2021. It found that a whopping 52% of workers within the foodservice and hospitality industries who left their jobs did so due to burnout. The study also found that those who left their job without another job lined up were 1.7x more likely to cite workplace mental health impact as their top reason for leaving.

Further, Nudge’s recently released Foodservice Deskless Report finds that 38 per cent of foodservice frontline workers currently wish to quit their jobs, with burnout among the top three reasons for doing so. It’s a worrisome trend, says Charlebois, who believes that it couldn’t be happening at a worse time, given the current criticality around attracting and retaining talent.

“The greatest impact that employee burnout has on an organization is the way in which it erodes the workplace culture,” he says. 

“It shows up in absenteeism and employees not fulfilling their entire duties. It leads to discontent and, at times, an embittered and antagonistic workforce that does not feel valued or cared for. Suddenly, establishments and businesses are left with a decayed culture that’s driving employees out and turning away the interest of prospective workers. And, right now, given the near-impossible task of recruiting talent, restaurant managers are finding it extremely difficult to run successful locations.”

Developing programs and initiatives to improve employee burnout

In order to deal with this incredibly important workforce issue, some organizations are beginning to develop and implement mental health and wellness programs to help care for employees and enable them to succeed. 

Burger restaurant chain Wendy’s, for instance, says that it is taking a more holistic approach to employee wellness than it has in the past, instituting training programs meant to assist managers in becoming more sensitive to mental health issues. Chick-fil-A recently adopted a program called Abound which provides employees with access to a wellness coach who can help address mental health and wellness concerns, among other things. Others within the industry that are following suit.

The development and implementation of these programs and initiatives are a positive sign, says Charlebois, that organizations are beginning to pay more attention to their employees’ concerns, focusing more on providing them with solutions and support. He adds that it’s all rooted in listening and proper communication from management. In fact, according to Nudge’s Foodservice Deskless Report, it’s exactly what many organizations are realizing, with 76% of leaders within the sector committing to investing more into the employee experience. More than a third (36%) plan to invest more into communication and a quarter (25%) plan to invest more in feedback.

“Taking a good look at the organization’s communication and engagement with employees is a very good place for leaders within the foodservice sector to start in terms of addressing employee burnout and concerns over mental health,” says Charlebois.  

“And they should do so through a lens of compassion, asking themselves whether or not their employees feel cared for. They’ve got to convey the message to their employees that their work environment is a safe place for them to share any difficulties, personal or otherwise, that they might be facing. The pandemic has brought a new dimension of consideration to the workforce, and it’s becoming vitally important that employers understand that the challenges faced today are not just about a disrupted supply chain or inflation. It’s also very much about the people that they rely on to achieve success.”

Upcoming live webinar: How to give your retail workers what they want

Upcoming live webinar: How to give your retail workers what they want

Long gone are the days when Employee Experience (EX) was just an HR play. Giving your frontline workers what they want – and need – to thrive at work is a clear path to better efficiency, performance, execution, and more. 

We’re teaming up with the National Retail Federation for an exclusive new webinar: Want to drive retention, revenue, and operational execution? Give your retail workers what they want.

Nudge is bringing together exclusive market research, real-world examples, and a decade of experience working with top retail brands to answer this critical question: what do retail workers want? Nudge COO Jordan Ekers is joined by Tania Walsh, Manager of Digital Communications Strategy at Telus, and Kathryn Williams, Manager of Retail Communications at Michael Kors to explore what initiatives and programs to implement to see a true impact, fast. 

Watch this webinar to learn:

  • Why retailers need to tap into the needs and wants of their workforce
  • Why workers crave a sense of purpose at work – and how to bake that into your EX
  • The importance of employee community and DE&I programs
  • How effective employee communication ties it all together

This is the webinar that retailers can’t afford to miss. Save your spot today!

The true value of investing in retail employee training and development

The true value of investing in retail employee training and development

Retail operation is, regardless of the category or vertical, a complex ecosystem comprising a number of different layers and components. From location, product assortment, and pricing to merchandising, marketing, and inventory management, each cog in the retail wheel needs to be functioning at a near-optimal level in order to contribute toward the overall success of any organization. 

But  efforts made by retailers within these areas wouldn’t be possible without its people. According to Kevin Graff, retail training and development expert and Founder and President of business management consulting firm Graff Retail, the current talent shortage blighting the industry should make retailers take notice of the value and differentiating potential inherent in providing strong employee training and development for their employees.

“If you expect your employees to remain within your organization, it has to be about more than just showing up to work,” Graff says. 

“It’s death just waiting to happen if employees are turning up for shifts for the sake of working shifts. What opportunities are you providing for them to learn, collaborate, share ideas, grow and develop? People have always wanted these opportunities. But today, there seems to be a growing expectation of them. If an employee isn’t happy within their job, there are about ten other jobs they can get tomorrow. So, why are they going to continue working within their current jobs? If the retailer isn’t going to nurture their employees and help them grow as individuals, they’re going to need to pay them lots of money and offer phenomenal benefits. But, that’s a short-lived game because eventually someone else comes along and offers more money and better benefits.”

Graff goes on to underscore the importance of providing retail employees with training and development opportunities, stressing the significance in doing so toward satisfying their needs and improving the experience enjoyed by today’s workforce. 

In fact, his notion is supported by findings within a recent LinkedIn Workforce Learning Report which reveals that an astounding 94% of employees say that the provision of learning and development opportunities would be a strong enticement for them to remain in their current jobs. And, the increasing demand for learning is especially true among younger generations, with more than a quarter (27%) of the Millennial and Gen Z cohorts stating that a lack of training represents the number one reason they’d consider leaving their jobs.

Given this growing sentiment around training and development, it seems clear that offering employees the right learning opportunities will help merchants and businesses significantly decrease turnover. However, Graff says that employee training isn’t just a powerful tool that can be leveraged to retain talent within the organization. There are numerous other benefits that can enhance the business and the employee experience, not to mention differentiate the brand from competitors:

1. Increased employee engagement

One of the most compelling and meaningful benefits that results from providing employees with opportunities to grow, says Graff, is their increased engagement with the brand and its objectives.

“How do you, as a business owner, get your employees to care as much about the business as you do? By providing your employees with the right opportunities to learn and grow, they start to understand and connect to the vision of the business, which then supports their ability to execute on the brand promise and work toward its overarching objectives.”

2. Greater clarity concerning roles

Along with increased engagement, Graff points out that by building employee learning and development processes, retailers also help define expectations within the organization, creating a basis for employee success.

“Effective training and development go a long way toward clarifying roles for employees, reinforcing through this type of investment the fact that they’re incredibly important to the business. It defines expectations from a behavior perspective and helps employees better understand how they’re contributing to the success of the business and their colleagues.”

3. Enhanced collaboration and performance

A greater understanding of their individual roles and the roles of their colleagues, explains Graff, then results in increased collaboration and performance. In fact, according to recent Gartner research, employees who have received adequate development opportunities within their organizations are 44% more likely to be high performers than those who have not been offered the same or similar formalized training.

“It just makes sense that an engaged employee who understands their role within the company will be more able and willing to execute at high levels. And when you put your employees in this kind of position, you’ll see a consistent rise in average basket size, conversion rates and ultimately sales.”

4. Sparking creativity and innovation

In addition to increased employee output, another layer of performance that’s positively impacted by the implementation of employee training and development is the levels of creativity and innovation within the organizations offering it.

“An employee who feels valued and important with respect to the overall goals and objectives of the business is an employee who wants to share ideas and insights,” says Graff. 

“It’s as simple as that. And when your entire staff feel this way, collaborating and contributing toward the success of the business, everyone wins.”

5. Improved employee and customer experience

Despite the many benefits that result from providing employees with learning and growth opportunities, Graff insists that the greatest payoff is in the enhanced experience that customers of the brand receive. After all, he says, providing exceptional service is what retail’s all about.

“As a result of a recent decrease in foot traffic to physical brick-and-mortar stores, interaction with the consumer is more important today than ever before. Store managers don’t often control the product selection, price, store design, or really much of anything else within the store. But where they do have impact is in the performance of their staff. How you hire, train, manage, coach and lead your employees is directly correlated to the levels of staff knowledge and quality of service that’s provided and, as a result, satisfaction among consumers.”

Considering the current talent shortage faced by retailers across the industry, a shortage that’s presenting significant challenges with respect to staffing frontline customer-facing positions, Graff suggests that the time is now for organizations that are looking to develop or enhance their training for frontline staff.

“For retailers that don’t have an employee training program within their business, they have to get started on building internally today, and they have to move fast.”

However, he adds that as important as the creation of a training and development regimen is, so, too, is the consistent review and analysis of the needs of the business and employees, as well as the effectiveness of the employee training offered.

“Training and development programs should be constantly evolving. They’ve got to align with the changing needs of the business, the expectations of employees and evolving consumer behaviour, tastes and preferences. If you’re not doing a top to bottom review and analysis of your training programs on an annual basis in the least, it’s like having a binder in the cupboard that nobody looks at. The implementation and execution of training and development programs are important. But the reinforcement strategy is equally critical in keeping the program alive and functioning optimally.”

As the world moves collectively toward a resumption of ‘normal’ activity and people in communities everywhere begin to venture out more in search of experiences, increasing physical retail footfall, it’s clear that the quality of in-store service and interaction is going to be paramount in determining success and failure. As a result, it will be the employees on the retail frontlines who will be responsible for delivering these outcomes, rendering the investment in the training, growth and development of their skills the most important for retailers to make going forward.

How developing a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion can attract and retain top retail talent

How developing a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion can attract and retain top retail talent

We’ve been talking a lot over the past few weeks about what retail workers want, and how retail organizations can overcome The Great Resignation by changing the way they support their staff. Today, we’re exploring how investing in diversity, equity and inclusion can attract and retain top retail talent. 

Getting top retail talent to your organization can prove, during the most certain of times, to be immensely challenging. And, given the importance of staffing stores with the right people for the right roles in order to deliver on the experience customers are expecting, the need for retailers to do so is critical.

To support the objective, retailers must possess a deep understanding of the needs of today’s retail workforce, an appreciation for the things they’re looking for from prospective employers and a willingness to deliver on those needs and wants. And, at the very top of the list is a yearning to be part of a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace environment.

In fact, according to a recent McKinsey & Company survey, developing and fostering strong diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives within any retail organization is paramount today with respect to attracting talent. The survey reveals that 39% of all respondents stated that they have either turned down or decided not to pursue a job because of a perceived lack of inclusion at an organization. 

But… What exactly is DE&I within the retail context? How does the development of these initiatives help support staffing efforts? And, how can retail businesses take the first steps toward achieving such a culture within their organizations? 

What is diversity, equity and inclusion?

Diversity, equity and inclusion within retail refers to the efforts undertaken by organizations to create a more welcoming workplace environment for prospective employees. According to Anne-Marie Pham, Executive Director at the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, these efforts should encompass the entirety of society and take into account the many faces and voices that it’s composed of.

“Retailers that are looking to develop strategies and initiatives aimed at creating a more comfortable and inviting environment for their employees need to consider every dimension of diversity,” says Pham. 

“That includes gender, sexual orientation and identification, race, religious and cultural backgrounds, languages spoken, levels of ability and more. And, because we now have the social permission in Canada to talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, driven primarily by global events over the last year-and-a-half, many retail workers across the country, particularly among the younger generations, are seeking employment with brands that are purpose-driven and aligned with their values of respect for all.”

Why should retailers care about diversity?

Fostering diversity and inclusion throughout the retail organization, from head office executive positions all the way down to in-store associates, makes perfect sense from a customer acquisition point-of-view. Those who can properly reflect the ever-expanding social tapestry of Canadian society will almost assuredly generate an eclectic range of foot traffic to their storefronts. And, says Pham, it’s an effective recruitment tool as well.

“In order to function optimally, retail organizations must rely heavily on many individuals from an array of different backgrounds. So, from a talent acquisition and retention perspective, DE&I initiatives provide merchants and brands with an excellent opportunity to create a culture that will appeal to a range of diverse talent, offering them an environment where they want to go to work every day,” says Pham. 

“It’s an environment that should encourage everyone to bring their whole selves to work, including aspects of their background, lived experiences and life circumstances, facilitating and supporting a sense of belonging for everyone.” 

The benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion in retail

In addition to the development of DE&I initiatives fundamentally and ethically being the right thing for retailers and other businesses to undergo, the productivity and related financial benefits that organizations receive as a result are significant. 

According to a recent survey conducted by The Harvard Business Review of 1,700 companies around the world, those operating with an above-average level of diversity within their organizations experience 19% greater innovation revenues and 9% higher earnings before taxes. And, in Pham’s estimation, it’s all the result of a more engaged and inspired workforce.

“If a welcoming and comfortable environment is developed, one that makes employees feel included and respected, a level of trust and loyalty to the employer will become a natural consequence,” she says. 

“In turn, their trust results in higher levels of engagement, which then leads to greater collaboration and productivity, bringing out the most thoughtful and innovative ideas, enabling any retailer or brand to be much more responsive to the needs of an ever-changing market.”

For a real-world example of the benefits that can result from DE&I initiatives and the development of a truly inclusive work culture, one needn’t look any further than global retail giant Walmart. According to Statista, the company posted worldwide sales in excess of $711 billion in 2021, up from $666 billion in 2020 and $654 billion in 2019. They are earnings that are reflective of the significant year-over-year increases in revenue experienced by the multinational corporation. And, according to comments made during an interview with Winsight Grocery Business by former Walmart DE&I Director, Donald Fan, they are financial results that are made possible by the company’s culture of diversity.

“By embedding equity into the talent lifecycle, you enrich your employees’ experience; thus, you accelerate their engagement and productivity and make your team high performing, dynamic, and resilient,” explained fan. 

How to begin building a culture of DE&I

A recent global survey conducted by Mercer found that 74% of participating companies reported to have been placing greater focus and emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives midway through the COVID-19 pandemic, with 64% actively reviewing talent management processes, such as hiring, in an effort to identify and mitigate potential biases.

For retailers that are committed to developing a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion, but have yet to formalize their strategy, Pham says that there are a few steps they can take to properly and effectively kickstart the process.

1. Commit to learning

Retailers that are new to the DE&I conversation must be open and willing to learn more about the topic and about the lived experiences of individuals. “Read books about DE&I, watch documentaries and read the news in order to understand and build compassion and empathy concerning the many systemic challenges that many face when accessing equality and inclusion within the workplace. Through this education, leaders will gain a greater sense of humility, compassion, understanding, and a heightened awareness of themselves in relation to others,” she says.

2. Conduct an honest assessment

Retailers will want to conduct an assessment of their organizations, the representation on staff and how internal DE&I initiatives might improve their level of diversity and inclusion. “Listen to the concerns of your employees and customers. This can be done through surveys and one-on-one conversations with team members at different levels of the organization,” says Pham. 

“It can also include the engagement of a third-party expert who can help review current policies and practices. This will allow retailers to understand whether or not there are any real or perceived barriers to employment or equity within the organization, as well as help them to identify any unconscious biases that can negatively influence the ways they do outreach, screen applicants, conduct interviews and make their selection at the end of the day.”

3. Commit to change

In order to put the education and assessment to practical use, retailers should determine what is required of them in order to effect actual change within their organizations. “Influencing this kind of change often requires a shift in mindset and philosophy which always starts at the top,” says Pham. 

“To do so effectively, leaders must determine which resources will be required and whether or not a budget is necessary in order to create the positive impact that they desire. And, everyone must be involved in the shift at the executive level of the organization to lay the foundation and set the direction for others to follow.”

Pham goes on to explain that the creation of a workplace environment that is truly diverse, equitable and inclusive requires a substantial amount of dedication, commitment and hard work. And, she adds, it also requires time to develop plans and initiatives and implement the right policies and procedures to actually change or positively influence the culture of an organization. However, she says that once retailers embark on their DE&I journey toward workplace improvements, the momentum among customers and employees of the brand will accelerate rapidly, resulting in the attraction of a greater number of prospective retail workers, increased engagement among staff, and an enhanced ability to cultivate and retain top talent.