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The seasonal staff burnout epidemic: how retailers can ensure a smooth holiday season

Sandra Moran, Chief Marketing and Customer Experience Officer at WorkForce Software

December 8 2023 - The retail industry faces unique challenges when it comes to labour management. Holiday seasons and sales events create major scheduling headaches for retail managers. Hiring temporary seasonal workers is the usual band-aid to handling the shopping surges, but this strategy lacks efficiency and consistency. And unfortunately, labour requirements in the retail industry are not as easily adjustable, leading to understaffing, staff burnout and excessive costs for businesses.

With one fifth of retail workers feeling exhausted at the end of every working day, this stress is only exacerbated by the busy holiday period, where staff often feel overworked and overwhelmed. This causes many employees to suffer from burnout, increasing staff turnover and consequently ramping up businesses' recruitment costs.

However, this retail challenge may have a compelling solution as annualised flexible working begins to trend. With this in mind, let's discuss how flexible work arrangements like annualised hours schemes alongside modern workforce management software can revolutionise employee experience and reduce operational costs in the retail industry.

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. Working fewer hours during quiet periods of the year and having sufficient hours in reserve to meet the needs of the business during the peak trading periods. In short, hours ramp up to meet higher demand during busy retail seasons like the holidays 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 and scheduling 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 Christmas.

Predicting staffing needs through digital resources

The impact of a lack of data for labour trends occurs during the ramp up to the holidays, where retailers start the process of temporary recruitment in August/September. 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.

Ultimately, retail shift workers want to experience the same benefits of flexibility as their corporate counterparts - most of all the flexibility to balance their personal life with their professional one.  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.

Widening the lines of real-time communication

It's especially important to have open lines of communication during peak periods like the golden quarter, to avoid staff burnout or concerns going unnoticed until things slow down in the new year. No, this doesn't mean setting up a WhatsApp or Facebook 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.

Most importantly, real-time comms tools provide employees with instant access to information they need to stay productive through their mobile devices. Additionally, management can ensure that proactive improvement plans are informed by real-time feedback loops, based on insights from frontline staff who know what customers are asking for and the barriers to delivery.

However, a modern workforce management system can go further than simply providing increased flexibility. They can also be used to protect employee's health and wellbeing - which is especially important during the busier times of year. For example, fatigue management systems can monitor hours worked, tasks performed, 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. The alternative is wasting hours sieving through data just to find out who needs their support, at the risk of ultimately providing support too late.

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.



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