A New Year means only one thing. Lots of content about new ‘HR trends’.
By now, you may already have read, seen, and listened to several industry experts talking about the latest developments, hot button issues, and opportunities for those in the people and culture space in 2024.
But how much of this is really relevant to retail? As those working in HR roles in the sector know, retail is currently facing its own very unique challenges, and the diverse nature of its (mostly deskless) workforce means that a lot of the things experts in the field talk about don’t apply.
In this post, we’re going to examine a number of widely discussed leading edge trends through the lens of HR in retail specifically, so people leaders in the sector can find out what they need to know about their industry in 2024.
1. How will AI impact HR practices in the retail industry?
Go to any blog, podcast, and webinar about new HR trends right now and number one on almost every list is guaranteed to be AI. Generative Artificial Intelligence platforms like ChatGPT have changed people’s perceptions of what technology can be capable of, and are now being widely used for research, writing, organization and other tasks by professionals in several different fields.
This could affect HR practices in the retail industry in a number of ways. In the first instance, embracing AI could help retail HR teams ‘do more with less’ by utilizing it to streamline processes and functions.
While some people leaders might understandably be skeptical of incorporating AI in roles where the human touch matters more than anything, there is still space for it to help HR increase productivity by automating time-consuming tasks, such as paperwork or project management.
How it impacts the retail workforce is another matter. For those in office roles, there may be some trepidation around AI making roles obsolete, and you may need to work with professionals in other teams to address these concerns, and encourage them to embrace change.
The frontline may almost see the opposite effect. As AI’s impact on deskless roles will be somewhat limited, it could arguably lead to more employees a role in the sector as a more secure option, and be a boon to recruitment in the industry.
2. Attracting the next generation of retail workers
Speaking of which, recruitment will likely continue to be one of the key challenges for HR in the retail sector in 2024. The National Retail Federation counted over 4 million job openings in the sector in the US alone in 2023, noting that this shows little signs of easing in the next year.
One key battleground for retail recruiters will be younger workers. People leaders in the sector need to persuade the next generation to see retail as a viable option. This means focusing more on improving the employee experience, and putting an emphasis on development and wellbeing.
In short, retailers need to match the expectations that younger workers have for people-first, nurturing work cultures. For retailers who already make their culture a priority, this won’t be a problem, but others may need to rethink and modernize their practices.
The good news is that the widely held belief that the younger generation favour remote positions isn’t necessarily true. While Generation Z do desire jobs with flexibility and look favorably on hybrid work, surveys have found that as little as 23% actually want to work remotely full-time.
Many younger workers value the direct mentorship and guidance they receive from working in-person, as well as the social aspect of connecting with their colleagues. Retailers can use this to their advantage to create an employee value proposition that really appeals to the new generation.
3. Promoting inclusion to attract ‘the hidden workforce’
Another major group that retail HR leaders may look to attract is what the Academy to Innovate HR (AIHR) described recently as ‘the hidden workforce’. AIHR defines this group as 14-17% of the population which includes ‘retirees who want to work, caregivers, neurodiverse individuals, people with long-term health problems, ex-inmates, and people without degrees.’
What all of these people have in common is that they are ready and willing to work full-time, but are being largely pushed out of the workforce because employers aren’t willing to cater to their specific needs, or just aren’t giving them a chance.
Tapping into this recruitment market could be one of the most impactful HR trends in the retail industry in 2024 and the years to come.
You may find more and more retailers creating scheduling options that are friendly for caregivers, making more accommodations for neurodiverse individuals or those with health issues, and generally promoting more inclusive hiring practices. HR leaders who are passionate about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging may find that this helps strengthen the business case for their initiatives and convince leaders to make meeting the needs of disadvantaged and underrepresented employees a priority.
Not only will this help to ease the current talent shortage in the sector, but it gives retail people leaders the chance to offer more opportunities to individuals who aren’t being given a fair chance in the current working world.
4. Can retailers match remote & hybrid companies for flexibility?
One of the key challenges of HR in the retail industry in trying to attract both the above group and the younger generation of workers will be offering more flexibility. In a world where other employers can basically allow people to work whenever and wherever they want, how can a sector which needs people in a brick and mortar environment for set hours compete?
While it might seem difficult, it’s not impossible. First and foremost, the benefits of remote work have been somewhat undermined by widespread return to office mandates. The less companies that offer remote work, the less it becomes a factor.
Secondly, while a lot of remote and hybrid employees do enjoy some flexibility, it’s not always unlimited. Meetings, tasks, and manager preferences can all often mean that even employees who are working fully from home need to work a fairly set schedule.
Retail, in comparison, does actually have the potential to offer schedules that are tailored to employees’ needs. While frontline staff obviously need to be onsite during their shifts, they can still opt for earlier shifts, later shifts, or even night shifts across seven days in the week, which can make it easier to fit their schedules around their personal lives.
Retailers who excel in attracting employees in 2024 will likely lean into flexibility as much as possible. Using digital tools like Deputy may help, as these platforms allow employees to create their own schedules and trade shifts with ease, while still ensuring employers don’t leave themselves short staffed.
There’s an opportunity here for retail to take a step forward while other sectors take a step back, and maybe even be seen as the more flexible, employee-friendly option in years to come.
5. Will there be more emphasis on talent growth in retail HR?
Encouraging career growth hasn’t typically been a strength for companies in the retail industry. While store-level employees are given opportunities to advance to supervisor and managerial roles, it can be argued that companies don’t necessarily do enough to sell these opportunities to their teams.
Like it or not, a lot of retail jobs are still seen as a stopgap by employees. But as recruitment continues to be challenging, encouraging people to stick around and look to build long-term careers in the industry will become increasingly important.
As a result, it would be no surprise to see increased investment and emphasis on learning and development become a key HR trend in retail in the coming year. Forward-thinking people leaders will look to create better career pathways across their entire organization, introduce more innovative L&D projects, and work to improve participation in these initiatives and overall upward mobility.
6. Preventing burnout continues to be a priority for retail people leaders
COVID-19 shone a light on the pressures the frontline retail workforce faces, and the need for greater care to be taken by retailers to look after employee wellbeing.
This is no less of a problem as we enter 2024. Axonify’s 2023 Deskless Report revealed that 49% of corporate leaders and 50% of frontline staff were concerned about employee burnout. In both polls, it was second only to staffing issues as the most common challenge cited by respondents.
While this highlights continued issues related to employee workloads, mental health, and overall happiness, the good news for HR leaders in the sector is that everybody is on the same page and recognizes the problem. People leaders looking to implement health and wellness initiatives or improve overall employee experience can expect to receive more support from both executives and frontline managers than they may have in the past.
7. HR leaders in retail should highlight employee purpose and impact in 2024
A key factor in recruiting, retaining, and motivating retail staff is making them feel like their work has meaning. Studies have shown that employees who find their work meaningful perform better, are more committed to their companies, and ultimately less likely to leave.
HR leaders in retail would be well-advised to focus on this aspect of work in order to improve overall engagement and investment across their entire organizations. Unfortunately, the overall impact of their work and its purpose can be easily lost in translation on the frontlines. Employees working the shop floor, the registers or the stockroom can come to see themselves as cogs in a machine, and become disillusioned.
The pandemic and the subsequent staffing issues that many retailers have experienced emphasized the need to ensure that this doesn’t happen. HR leaders in the sector need to focus more on reminding frontline employees why they were considered ‘essential’ workers during COVID-19, and the vital service they are performing to society as a whole.
They also need to do a better job of communicating just how the work of employees on the ground contributes to a company's overall success. This could mean celebrating reaching revenue goals, highlighting individual stores who have performed well, or just making more of an effort to recognize individual employees.
8. Rethinking compensation in the retail industry
As retailers have struggled to fill open positions over the past few years, some have responded by raising wages. But this seems to have done little to bridge the gap, which begs the question of whether retailers need to become more creative with compensation.
In our webinar earlier this month, Noah Warder and Benefi CEO Patrick Dunn discussed how a lot of more forward-thinking organizations were rethinking the overall salary and rewards packages they offer in order to improve their employer value proposition. This has involved incorporating more unique reward options like signing bonuses, recognition, and even non-monetary benefits like flexibility, education, and family planning assistance.
A good rewards package is something that looks different for every organization, and may even look different in different branches of the company. As Patrick put it, “It seems like there’s no silver bullet, and there’s a reason for that. When I think about creating a meaningful relationship or solving a meaningful problem for an employee – not all employees are the same. You may have very different needs across your new hires versus your established employees versus your executive team. Finding something that speaks to all of them is a challenge for organizations.”
One of the key challenges of HR in the retail sector in 2024 will be finding a rewards formula that works for the current job market. This may take some trial and error, and may even require some agile planning in order to provide the right benefits at every level of the organization.
9. Will recognition become an HR trend in the retail industry?
On the subject of rewards, while we may be biased, we do expect more comprehensive employee recognition programs to be one of the largest-growing HR trends in the retail industry in 2024 and beyond.
When you consider the increased pressure on people teams in the sector to provide more competitive rewards propositions, improve engagement and wellbeing, and encourage overall employee development, recognition becomes much more of a must-have.
Far from being simply another benefit, it becomes a strategic tool that can influence all of these outcomes. It can be used to encourage and reward career development, provide a competitive edge in the talent market, and ultimately create more positive, nurturing cultures where retail employees can thrive and grow.
Create the right recognition program for retail
If you’re considering implementing a recognition program in 2024, make sure you check out our eBook, Employee Recognition for Retail: The Complete Guide. This free resource goes through everything you need to plan and implement your program successfully.
The eBook covers:
- Some the key challenges facing the retail sector today
- How recognition can help
- A look at why recognition fails in a lot of retail companies
- How to implement a successful retail recognition program
The guide also includes a 3-page fillable worksheet that you can use to plan your program. Fill out the form below to download your copy today: