Your staff have survived Covid, cranky customers and supply chain issues. Now comes a potential recession and with it, the race to secure talent looks to be coming to an end. So what can you do to look after the employees you have? Ashling Withers explains.

In the past three years, retail workers have been at the forefront of our challenging times.

Many have worked through the waves of Covid as essential workers before having to deal with the challenges of lack of staffing and supply change demands. Now, with a recession and job cuts looming, they are under pressure once again.

While the retail sector is not alone – in the past three years, more than 91 per cent of employers in Australia have experienced staff shortages – retailers have felt the pain in their own unique way.

With fears of a global recession, increasing interest rates and everyone looking to tighten their belts, it is no longer a race to attract staff.

And, with the cost-to-hire increasing to an average of $23,000 per candidate, it is unsurprising that 39 per cent of retailers name retention as their top priority for 2023.

After so long battling on short-term attraction, what are the ways retailers can ensure more effective strategies to both attract the right people and retain the best?

One size does not fit all

Retailers need to be more targeted in attracting the right people that will stay for the long term and deliver the capabilities needed for the future growth of the business.

Instead of traditional employee segmentation which focuses on roles, personas are increasingly being used. Personas reflect the mindsets and motivations of individual needs.

Focusing on what truly drives existing and prospective talent enables employers to communicate in a targeted and specific way. To attract the right people and keep them.

In this climate, retailers need to influence not only the messages they use but the employee experience they deliver. That includes recruitment and onboarding through to L&D, reward and recognition as well as how you offer well-being and flexibility in a way that suits employee needs.

Take the example of Starbucks. The business has identified three core employee segments to attract and retain talent:

  • Careerists – those looking for long-term career advancement with the company
  • Artistes – those wanting a community-oriented and socially responsible employer
  • Skiers – those working mainly to support other passions such as skiing.

By identifying the talent needed and their unique motivators, Starbucks has been able to nuance its messaging and experience to fill the gaps and create the right experiences for these segments for the longer term.

Building a seamless experience, inside and out

The experience delivered by employees is paramount to driving customer loyalty and spend when consumer confidence is low.

Regardless of the economic climate, your customer promise needs to be delivered by your people at every point in the customer journey.

But how well do your employees connect to your ‘why’ – that is, the purpose of your brand? How well do they understand the values and consequent behaviours expected of them? And are they empowered to live and breathe them?

By taking a heads, hearts and hands approach, employers can practically and emotionally engage their people, strengthening their connection to the organisation and helping deliver seamless experiences.


Why does this matter?

This involves communicating how the brand connects with your strategic priorities, why this
is important and how it will benefit your people and your customers.


What does it mean for me?

Engage leaders at all levels to create a sense of excitement and possibility about the brand and what it means for everyone on the team.


How do we keep this going?

Think about how you can align your brand with everyday systems and processes, providing people with the right resources and tools to make it happen.

Empathy starts at the top

Take a moment to think about what your staff have been through in recent years. And the challenges that lie ahead.

With 93 per cent of employees reporting they would stay with an empathetic employer, 2023 needs to be the year of empathy. Leading with empathy will flow through the organisation and extend through to your customers.

Employers need to consider how to build empathy into leadership training, competency and capabilities frameworks and even KPIs. Elevating its importance in managing talent will ensure employees don’t only survive in uncertain times but thrive.

If the last three years have taught us anything it’s that employers in all sectors need to invest in programs and training that focus not only on professional development but also on the soft skills that will enable them to support their teams.

So what now?

Now’s the time to ask yourself, as an employer, do you know what matters most to your employees?

What are the ways you can make them feel valued, supported and important?

How can you show you really do care about what matters to them?

Because investment in your people at this level will continue to deliver a return long after talk of a recession has passed.

Ashling Withers is a Senior Consultant – Employer Brand at Principals.

This article first appeared in Inside Retail

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