Focus on retail: how to retain staff in the “new normal”

  • Market Insight 25 October 2022 25 October 2022
  • UK & Europe

  • Employment, Pensions & Immigration

The UK has seen a return to relative normality in the second half of 2022. However, many employees are still assessing how they want to work in post-lockdown times and employee retention is a key issue for employers. Earlier this year, the PwC Global Hopes and Fears Survey reported that one in five workers planned to quit their jobs in 2022.

Seeking better pay is often a key driver for those changing jobs, and the cost of living crisis will no-doubt exacerbate this issue, but many people are also looking for more fulfilling work and a better work-life balance. An employer’s workplace culture and values are also increasingly important considerations for employees on the move.

In this article we consider the issue of retention through the lens of the retail sector, looking at:

  • some of the key workplace issues facing the retail sector; and
  • suggestions of how to tackle these issues by looking at culture, diversity and inclusion.

The pandemic

During the early stages of the pandemic, in many instances customer-facing retail staff were recognised as highly valued workers at the front-line keeping vital services going during unprecedented times. However, after two years of lockdown uncertainty, varying hours and temporary workplace closures, polarised views about masking and vaccination (which has significantly affected those in customer-facing roles) and, sadly, an increase in violence and abuse against shop workers, retaining staff in retail is an ongoing challenge. The increase in hybrid and home-working roles available in the wider market make a customer-facing role (where homeworking is often not an option) less attractive particularly where the cost of travelling to work is increasing as a result of the energy crisis.

Key workplace issues affecting retail employers now

Since spring 2022, as offices and trains filled up, masks no longer remained mandatory, and the focus on vaccinations within workplaces lessened, the UK has entered a new phase. However, we remain in a transition phase and the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt as employees continue to reassess their lives and what does and does not work for them in the world of work.   

Even as things are getting back to normal, some employees continue to be negatively impacted by COVID-19, for example, those with long-covid and those who are anxious about returning to their workplace while COVID-19 continues to circulate. Employers should be alive to these issues and sensitive in managing them while establishing a return to a new normal in the workplace, bearing in mind possible Equality Act 2010 obligations in relation to disabled employees and health and safety at work requirements.

At the more serious end of issues facing retail employees (pre-Covid and ongoing) is workplace harassment by customers. When added to stress, long hours and burnout following a turbulent couple of years, there are significant risks to both the physical and mental health of retail staff. Employers have obligations in respect of employees who have physical or mental health disabilities and duties to protect all workers from harassment in the workplace. Failure to do so could lead to Tribunal claims and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) taking enforcement action regardless of whether an individual has brought a Tribunal claim. Ensuring that staff are protected from harassment from colleagues and customers is the baseline of ensuring a stable and inclusive culture.

These and more issues mean that employee retention is a key challenge for retail employers. So what practical steps can retail employers take to help improve employee retention?

How improving workplace culture can help with employee retention

How companies cultivate a positive culture in post-pandemic life will likely be crucial to improving employee retention. While compensation continues to be important, employees are also prioritising wellbeing, work-life balance and belonging.

We recommend having frequent informal conversations to encourage open communication with employees and keeping in regular touch to take a proactive interest in employees’ good mental and physical health. Regular catch-ups will help managers to ensure that they are aware of any issues at an early stage as it is harder to voice concerns as problems build up and become more significant. Making real efforts to ensure new staff feel comfortable to speak to their line manager or colleagues is also important to ensure employees stay in their roles for the long term.

Retail employers may want to consider implementing updated employee-friendly policies to improve workplace culture and a sense of inclusion. Individuals are increasingly expecting their employer to align with their values and prioritising this when making decisions about their careers. If a company’s purpose, values and culture does not match that of its workforce, there may be difficulties retaining people. For a retail employer, ensuring that marketing and advertising campaigns reflect the culture of the organisation is vital and aligning staff benefits to those campaigns can be particularly effective. More generally, having policies, events and staff communications that focus on inclusivity, such as around different religious holidays, LGBTQ+ inclusion and the menopause, can help create a positive workplace culture that helps retain staff. Likewise, flexibility for staff with caring and family responsibilities, and policies which underly this, encourage employee loyalty.

Sustainability is also a motivating factor which many employees place emphasis on. Companies with a strong ethos around sustainability and climate change will likely inspire a sense of pride within their employees while also contributing to international efforts to curb climate change. Clyde & Co’s HR Eco Audit is available to clients across the retail sector and beyond who are seeking to develop their company culture and implement ESG friendly policies and practices.

Key practical tips for retaining talent

  • Think about offerings to make travel for staff easier, especially given the pressures of the cost-of-living crisis: fuel allowance, setting up car-share arrangements, meal allowances, increased employee discounts and more flexibility for employees to set their length of shifts in ways that work for them.
  • Focus on wellbeing at work: employee assistance programmes, anonymous staff surveys, buddying and mentoring schemes, on-demand resources for physical/mental/financial wellbeing and peer-to-peer recognition tools.
  • Provide training to staff to assist them with their changing roles (to reduce the need to manage performance) thinking broadly about what skills are needed (e.g. management of click and collect schemes require different skills; increase in customers buying online means there is an expectation of a strong customer experience in-store).
  • Focus on diversity and inclusion: employees who feel like they belong are likely to be more productive and stay with an organisation for longer (as well as minimising grievance/employment tribunal risks).

For more information about the topics covered in this update or if you are interested in learning more about our diversity and inclusion training or our HR Eco Audit, please contact James Major, Eleanor Winslet or your usual Clyde & Co contact.

PwC's Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2022 | PwC


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