According to research from legal firm TLT, only 12% of 100 leading UK retailers have put plans in place in case the UK votes to leave the European Union (EU) on Thursday. Whether we remain or leave one thing that we can be sure of is the uncertain times that lie ahead for the country and the retail sector.
This period of economic and social flux is already forcing retail employers to question how they can best sustain their businesses and workforces. Attracting skilled people and retaining staff to the retail sector will be key, not least if the position of the 442,000 EU workers employed in Britain’s retailers, hotels and restaurants come under threat.
Although none of us really know where Thursday’s decision will leave us, perhaps now is the time for retailers to address some of the fundamental issues that have long affected the sector-specific issues around staff shortages and high churn rates. What can retailers do to start creating a healthier retail culture and prepare for any outcome?
Despite the UK retail industry employing over 2.8 million people last year, holding on to employees is known to be a challenge for the industry. Retaining staff has always been difficult. Often, retailers employ school leavers and students who often see the service sector as a temporary job, not a long term career option.
Why is this? Perhaps the real reason for retail’s notoriously high churn rates and low staff morale is down to culture. Working in the service industry is not easy – customer-facing roles can be demanding and shift roles can be antisocial with weekend working. Staff need to be empowered and given the opportunity thrive within their company if they are to see long term career prospects in the sector. Quality employers will retain the best staff which will not only support them in terms of recruitment but also present a happier and more committed workforce to the customers that they serve.
The uncertainty of the EU referendum and the introduction of the National Living Wage is already forcing retailers to make cut backs, which can have an impact on culture. But at some point retailers will need to start seeking out multi-skilled talent that are flexible and willing enough to work across functions to drive productivity and enhance the customer experience.
In a department store environment for example, this may mean staff collaborating to support the needs of different departments to fill gaps that may arise. This would require retailers to invest in training up staff in other functions of the business. By giving staff important responsibilities, empowering them and boosting their morale, they stand to be more invested in the business and driving company performance.
Whether or not Britain stays or leaves the EU, retailers should make use of our highly skilled and diverse society. Attracting people who can thrive and help move the retail industry forward, will ultimately help to sustain it. Culture and empowering staff play a key part in this, as ultimately they are the crucial people who sell and represent the face of the retail sector.
By Shahzad Ali, CEO Yap Jobs