How retailers can engage with the millennial workforce

Bryn Doyle

By Bryn Doyle, partner at Squire Patton Boggs’ Manchester office.

Much has been said and written in recent years about how employers can engage with their Millennial workforce. Whether you are from Gen X or are a Millennial yourself, it seems clear that younger employees are more aware of the choices available to them than the generations before and have a clearer idea of what is important for them.

The problem is that a workforce with itchy feet can drive uncertainty for employers, potentially widen the skills gap and have a negative impact on staff turnover rates.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the retail sector. According to the ONS Labour Force Survey, the most common sectors of employment for Millennials are the wholesale and retail sectors, accounting for 13.5% of all workers aged 25-34. So, what can employers do to engage with their Millennial employees and what strategies can be employed to retain their talent?

Fortunately, employers have moved on from simply putting a pinball machine in the staff room and thinking they are engaging with their employees! Having said that, the thinking behind that particular management technique is still sound in principle. That is, by providing a stimulating and interesting workplace, all employees are likely to be more engaged and more likely to remain with their employer.

The impact of technology and social media should not be underestimated. Millennial workers are generally so much more confident using technology in the working environment than any preceding generation. With greater connectivity than ever leading to greater choice, more awareness of their rights and freedoms, the Millennial workforce is rightly challenging the status quo when it comes to work.

Gen Z will be an even more connected generation so employers (and managers) need to understand what makes them tick just as they are coming to terms with Millennials.

For the first time in history, it is likely that the children of the new millennium will earn less than their parents. As such, employers are faced with a perfect storm of circumstance, which makes it increasingly difficult to engage their younger employees, who are aware of their options and that the grass may well be greener working for another retailer down the road.

Also, it is clear that money isn’t always the main driver for many of this generation; they want a clear career path and to belong to a recognition-based culture.

The good news is that the retail industry has a great platform to offer that exciting and stimulating environment. Retail, by its very nature, is dynamic and has to adapt to trends, and we are seeing that retailers that can track (or be ahead) of those trends are the ones that are successful and can attract and retain a skilled, engaged workforce.

We are seeing some particular trends emerging from these successful retailers, which include:

  • A challenge culture: Not in an aggressive sense, but it seems clear that work is much more interesting when you are challenged. No one goes to work to be bored, so give some thought to how you can make the jobs your employees do more challenging. In the last decade, there was a move away from competition between stores or departments, but that trend seems to be reversed now and “healthy competition” based on positive criteria is once again creating a challenging and exciting workplace.
  • An open attitude to communication: Even with a “no phone on the shop floor” policy, your Millennial workforce will still want to be connected. Think about ways to allow that connectivity. Allow colleagues to connect and promote the place they work, encourage them to be ambassadors and “influencers” of your products and services. What is more, your Millennial employees are ideally placed to embrace and use technology to drive efficient working practices. So, explore how you can harness their skill set for the benefit of your business.
  • Flexibility: Retail never leant itself to 9 to 5, and today, that is more true than ever. So, look to provide your workforce with the greatest flexibility you can. Coupled with advances in technology, you can really benefit from shift-pattern management tools (even self-service shift management) or shift swapping and bidding services. Getting the right hours in the right place by using technology is a win-win.

Retailers have a great opportunity to address the concerns of the Millennial workforce and use them to their advantage. There are some great examples of shop assistants with thousands of YouTube followers actively promoting their employer’s products. Who better to sell to your customers than your staff? Sure, it may be less polished than your usual marketing, but it is extremely effective and often a free resource.

So, embrace your Millennial staff, recognise their skills, utilise their marketing potential and keep them engaged!

Read more in the State of the Region series.

Click here to sign up to receive our new South West business news...