Making Time for Scheduling

By Pan Demetrakakes

Scheduling is an ongoing headache for middle management in retailing, and it will probably only become worse as workers’ rights come more to the forefront, according to a new report from WorkJam.

Salary is probably the most prominent labor issue, but scheduling is close behind. San Francisco recently passed an ordinance setting strict guidelines for how much advanced notice retail employers must provide staff; similar measures are being considered in Seattle and Washington, D.C.

WorkJam, an employee engagement platform, surveyed 250 retail managers, from store to regional level, at retailers with at least 5,000 employees. Key findings:

• Only 17 percent of managers feel their stores’ employees are very motivated and engaged;

• 62 percent of managers say employees have quit their stores due to scheduling conflicts;

• 89 percent of retail stores are understaffed each week;

• 63 percent of managers say that reducing turnover by as little as one associate per month could lift monthly revenues by at least 6 percent;

• 70 percent of managers regularly log additional hours to handle administrative tasks.

The situation is liable to be worse for retailers of food and other consumable goods, says Joshua Ostrega, chief operating officer and co-founder of WorkJam.

“Scheduling is clearly an issue across the retail industry, but it’s likely that this statistic is even higher for retailers open at odd hours or around-the-clock like grocery, convenience, and drugstores,” Ostrega says. “With so many night shifts to fill, managers have to spend extra time to accommodate each worker’s availability and home life. This can also hurt employee morale if workers feel that they are being scheduled unfairly.”

Turnover has far-reaching implications, according to the WorkJam study. Almost half (47 percent) of the managers surveyed said their companies set store turnover goals, but among those, 78 percent had trouble meeting those goals. Four in five (81 percent) said this turnover detracts from their ability to meet their stores’ sales objectives.

Workforce management (WFM) systems, which automate the scheduling process and organize scheduling needs and requests, are seen as a way to help confer the flexibility that workers crave. But they’re no panacea, Ostrega suggests.

“One common shortcoming of some WFM systems is that they can’t accommodate employees’ specific availability,” he says. “WorkJam’s study found that 72 percent of retail managers are not very satisfied with their WFM system's ability to create schedules that accommodate both store labor needs and associates' preferences. Many WFM systems aren’t adaptable enough to personalize each employee’s scheduling needs, especially when these requirements change week-to-week. As a result, 71 percent of managers often spend hours making up for their WFM system by manually fielding staff requests for schedule changes.”

The solution, he says, is to find a system with enough capability and flexibility to problems like failing to communicate shift changes to employees. “Managers can combat this through technology that provides self-service tools that account for individual workers’ fluctuating availability and effectively manages the communication of last-mile schedule adjustments,” he says. “This way, managers are freed from scheduling in the back office and can spend more time with their team on the sales floor.”

To see the study, click here.