Hanging on to Staff During Tough Times

Happy staff
Flower Shop

When the going gets tough in retail, staffing costs are usually one of the first casualties. But with the busy Christmas shopping period looming, store managers will be reluctant to reduce staff numbers too far.

It’s possible for retailers to cut down on wage bills without impacting on service levels, however. Here are some helpful ways to reduce costs while managing to hang on to your entire team:

1. Reduce overtime

Overtime costs can significantly increase your wage bill. Staff regularly clocking out even 10–15 minutes later than they should can quickly add up if you have a large number of employees. You might also want to review your overtime policy to ensure that staff aren’t adding to your wage bill unnecessarily — instead, consider offering time off in lieu of payment or capping overtime to keep the wage bill down.

You’ll need accurate time data to manage these costs and processes effectively. Consider switching to web-based time and attendance software that tracks employee working hours and automatically prepares said data for payroll, giving you full visibility of overtime costs.

2. Shorter shifts

Instead of simply reducing headcount to save money, consider introducing a few different shift patterns instead. For example, you might reduce the length of a typical shift in order to retain staff while cutting the overall wage bill. This might not be ideal for everyone, but chances are most employees would rather sacrifice a few hours per week if it means they’ll keep their jobs. Communication is key here: it’s imperative that you explain to your staff why the move is necessary (i.e. to prevent redundancies but still keep the business afloat!), and to give them plenty of notice of the changes in case they don’t work for everyone.

3. Keeping staff motivated

You undoubtedly have many key members of staff who it would be foolish to let go. When margins are tight, however, it’s not always possible to offer pay rises or the kind of bonuses that staff may have come to expect, so you risk your top employees feeling undervalued. It’s therefore good practice to come up with ways to reward staff that don’t require dipping into the coffers quite so much. For example, you could consider offering them additional development opportunities such as sending them for first aid or managerial training, or enhancing the working environment by making improvements to the staff rooms or recreation areas. You might also consider offering flexible working hours to staff members. Perhaps there’s a team member who famously hates mornings or who’s struggling to find childcare for particular shifts, and would therefore benefit from increased flexibility. Whatever you decide, it’s important to be transparent about processes like shift allocation, promotions and pay rises to ensure that your attempts to put smiles on employees’ faces don’t elicit frowns instead.

4. Unpaid leave

As a short-term measure, offering staff the opportunity to take extra time off, unpaid, could be mutually beneficial for both the business and employees. Perhaps there’s a member of staff with a burning ambition to travel or to take a short break to renovate their home, or one who needs extra time off during the school holidays. Knowing that they can do this, yet still have a job to come back to, will be particularly appealing for some, so it’s always worth asking — however strange it might seem!

5. Improved rota planning

If your workforce is paid by the hour, having the right number of staff in place during both busy and quiet periods will help keep staffing costs down. Speak to staff directly or analyse past sales data to help forecast your labour requirements for each day. As well as helping you keep spending under control, having a greater understanding of daily staffing requirements will enable you to provide better customer service — which in turn will help generate additional revenue.

Letting staff go might feel like the only option during financially turbulent times, but it’s rarely the best solution in the long term. Any form of redundancy could inadvertently lead to a host of other staffing problems, such as a demoralised or overworked team, which in turn would impact customer service. Reviewing overtime policies and scheduling shifts more effectively could help make incremental savings that are incredibly important at a time when margins are so thin, so be sure to explore your options properly before letting anyone go.

Written by James Lintern, co-founder, RotaCloud