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01/17/2023

New study finds most retailers still short on frontline staff

Marianne Wilson
Editor-in-Chief
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Most retailers are still dealing with a shortage of frontline workers.

Retailers continue to be challenged by a frontline labor shortage.

Sixty-three percent of retail companies are operating with a frontline employee deficit, according to a study commissioned by digital frontline workplace company WorkJam and conducted by Forrester Consulting. Despite the shortage, only 8% of the companies plan to invest in improving the frontline experience in the next 12 months to help address their labor shortages.

The study is the first global survey covering the frontline employee experience across industries that include retail, hospitality, restaurants, travel, manufacturing and healthcare.

The WorkJam study also found that 80% of decision-makers across industries and geographies want to leverage technology to improve the frontline experience, but struggle with prioritizing digital investments. Within retail specifically, 73% of decision-makers say digital transformation initiatives have not yet reached the frontline.

“Retailers need to provide the right digital tools to their frontline associates—not just to corporate and HQ staffs—to ensure workers are empowered, engaged and happy and to improve operational efficiency and revenues,” the study stated.

Other key findings from the survey are below.

Employee-led rejection of frontline work norms and increased churn have prompted new focus on the frontline experience: Nearly three quarters (74%) of decision-makers across industries say frontline employees are rejecting work conditions that went unchallenged just two years ago and 80% say frontline turnover has increased, challenging companies to maintain standards and deliver a positive customer experience.

  • Improving the frontline employee experience is a priority, but investment in it often takes a back seat to other business goals: Across sectors, 92% of survey respondents identified the frontline experience as important to achieving their organizational goals in the next year, but only 36% ranked improving it as one of their top three operational goals and only 9% ranked it as their top goal.
  • Better communication and professional development opportunities are just as important to frontline employees as salary and more flexible scheduling: Nearly nine in 10 (87%) decision-makers say frontline employees expect more flexibility in scheduling than they did two years ago, but better and more diverse forms of communication with leadership are also priorities for frontline employees, according to Forrester interviews.
  • Information and applications frontline workers need are typically siloed and inefficient: The majority of frontline employees have to use far too many resources and channels to access company materials and communications, with 62% of companies surveyed currently using four to six different frontline employee applications when a single app would be more convenient, efficient and easy to use for staff.

“Focusing on the frontline employee experience is key to achieving business goals, including growing revenue, engaging and retaining associates, increasing efficiency and ultimately delivering an excellent customer experience,” said Steven Kramer, CEO of WorkJam. “This survey shows that business decision makers across retail and many other industries want to improve the frontline experience through digital innovation—and understand that doing so is key to their overall business success—but are struggling to prioritize investments in technology that empowers frontline workers and makes their daily work lives significantly better.”

Methodology

WorkJam commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct a November 2022 survey of 502 business leaders in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia who are charged with making decisions regarding employee scheduling, communication, task management and learning. Of the executives surveyed, 51% work at companies with 5,000–9,999 frontline employees, 28% work at companies with 10,000–14,999 frontline employees, 12% work at companies with 15,000–19,999 frontline employees and 9% work at companies with more than 20,000 frontline employees.