Retailers Will Create Bold Employee Experiences

Photo credit: iStockphoto/JulyProkopiv

To understand how Forrester’s predictions will unfold in the retail industry in 2020, my colleague Madeline Cyr and I interviewed experts within Forrester for our “Applying 2020 Predictions To Retail” series. To understand the employee experience (EX) predictions for the year, we spoke with Forrester Principal Analyst David Johnson, who serves CIO professionals.

Madeline: You predict that companies will stop apologizing for “unorthodox EX” and explicitly state who isn’t a fit. Tell us more about this—and are you seeing examples of this in the retail industry?

David: Amazon is an example of a retail company with an unorthodox employee experience. Despite press for a perceived lack of empathy, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has been very clear that those things are not acceptable within the organization. At the same time, employee experience within any warehouse is undeniably a hard job. It’s physically demanding, and employees are held to high standards for productivity. The nature of this work means that it’s not an optimal employee experience for everybody. Yet if you go to the Glassdoor reviews for warehouse worker positions, you’ll find that while some people hate the work, others love it. The positive reviewers mention they enjoy being busy, the job helps them stay in shape, and they appreciate that they are often offered extra hours.

For retailers, being honest about who isn’t a good fit [for a given position] means you need to be very discerning about the people you do hire. Delta is a good example of a culture that isn’t for everyone, and they do a good job hiring for it. Getting into their flight attendant training program is harder than getting into Harvard. The hiring process involves some activities and situations that could trigger certain reactions from some candidates—which in turn may indicate that the flight attendant job isn’t a good fit.

Madeline: You note that companies will stop using gender as binary and find that it is good for business. How should retailers think about this and adapt business practices—whether online or in the store or otherwise?

David: This issue is becoming important to more and more people. We have seen a few retailers like Sephora make great strides. It’s a way to honor, embrace, and welcome people who identify as gender nonbinary. You want to ensure that your customers as well as your employees feel comfortable and that you honor their identity. We will see more businesses embrace this practice by eliminating barriers in their systems that are based on binary gender, as well as more visible changes, like gender-neutral bathrooms in workplaces. They will also embrace new ways of tracking employees and customers like American Airlines did. If you are an employer who moves early on this area, you’re at an advantage to hire and engage with people who feel strongly about this. However, don’t undertake this superficially. These changes need to be embraced from every aspect of your company culture and ensure that there is education and training on things like preferred pronouns.

Madeline: You note there will be an EX investment renaissance as companies seek to find and retain non-college-educated employees for high-attrition industries like retail, quick-service restaurants, and hospitality. What will these investments look like?

David: Given the evolving COVID-19 situation, some companies might put a pause on some of these investments. For certain retail categories, there will be significant retail associate unemployment for some period.

However, once the retail industry is back on track, we expect some retailers to make investments in things like training for skills that one would traditionally pick up in a secondary education environment (e.g., office skills, computer skills, and accounting). Retailers will offer training or educational stipends to help fill gaps of education that may hamper associates’ ability to do their current job or to move up within the organization. Furthermore, mentoring, coaching, and apprenticeships are also ways retailers can upskill associates into roles for which they would otherwise be unprepared. Some companies might worry, “What if I train my employees and they leave?” I think the way that companies need to look at this is, “What if I don’t train my employees and they stay?”

The original article by Forrester's vice president and research director Fiona Swerdlow and researcher for digital retail Madeline Cyr is here. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of HR&DigitalTrends. Photo credit: iStockphoto/JulyProkopiv