In the past decade or so, an entirely new store associate has emerged onto the retail scene. Today’s new associates are both well versed and confident in their ability to put technology – particularly mobile technology – to work to enrich their daily lives. They embrace and integrate new gadgets, devices and applications into their lifestyles unlike any preceding generation. At 80 million strong in the U.S., they are rapidly emerging as the dominant generation in retail’s workforce.
According to a recent study by Millennial Branding and Payscale entitled Gen Y in the Workplace millennials are five times as likely as any other generation to hold retail merchandising and sales jobs. As early as next year, millennials will make up a third of the total workforce; in seven years, they will represent half of all retail workers. Clearly, they are a force to be reckoned with, and the sooner we recognize the unique expectations and desires of millennial workers, we can be in a better position to recruit, engage and retain the people who represent the new face of retail.
To better understand the unique expectations of this generation, I spoke to John West, director of retail consulting at Workforce Insight, a leading provider of strategic workforce management consulting and implementation services.
Here is part 1 of my Q&A with John:
Q: John, what’s the first thing retailers need to know about working with millennials?
John: Retailers must realize that this is a generation that already typically mistrusts brands, and while retail employers are constantly fighting the good fight to make their own employees brand advocates, they can never forget that there’s no quicker way to lose any trust and the equity you have built with an employee than to mishandle their pay. Distractions around pay create immediate disengagement. Millennials haven’t had the opportunity, like many of us have, to experience the inaccuracies and mishaps associated with manual time and pay calculations and paper-based punch timecards.
A problem with time and pay to a non-millennial is a hassle, but not the end of the world. A pay issue to a millennial is a deal breaker, and mistrust and disengagement can form, that may never be reconciled.
Q: Interesting point, John, and one that I hadn’t even considered. Once they have payroll mastered, what else should retailers focus on when attempting to recruit and retain millennials?
John: Once they have the basics nailed, then retailers must engage employees on the next level to keep their interests and attitudes in a positive light. Millennials are comfortable multi-taskers and team players, both traits that make great retail employees, but when retailers fail to provide effective communication paths to help them engage their teammates, or give them the right tools to perform their functions in an efficient manner, or fail to give them control in creating a good work-life balance, millennials do not respond well.
Millennials inherently understand technology, and when retailers ask them to use outdated technology, they quickly become frustrated when they know their phone, for example, can perform twice the functions of the old PC they are using. Nothing is more frustrating than being tethered to a wired scanner doing perpetual counts, dragging a wire across a store, when you know your phone could scan the items much more efficiently.
Q: Let’s dig a little deeper into technology. What are some other pitfalls retailers should try to avoid when it comes to helping millennials put technology to work on the job?
John: Retailers must dive in head first, embracing the technology that millennials were raised with, and allow communication to occur in the manner in which they are most comfortable. Millennials won’t pick up a phone and make a voice call to someone to set a date for the night, so how do you think they feel about having to ask their manager face to face for a day off? Text messaging has become the preferred method of making such queries. To force a millennial into making a phone call or go back to their store and either ask a manager face to face, or manually filling out a paper form to request a day off really pains millennials as a highly inefficient means of communication.
Another thing retailers should consider is the team mentality of the millennial. They want to know who they are working with, and they want to work in cohesive groupings, and as such they want to have a say in who they are working with, and when. But having to spend time tracking down fellow employees to swap shifts is mundane and disengaging. Teams and teamwork are an aspect of millennials that is often overlooked, and retailers must find more ways of engaging this aspect of the millennial generation.
Q: What’s the best approach for connecting and engaging millennials?
John: Retailers need to start by analyzing all of their points of engagement with their employees, and begin upgrading, modifying or replacing the systems that support these points of employee engagement. These efforts are important steps to enabling their workforce to interact, ironically, in what is now considered a more organic and natural means.
Retailers should look inside the store as well. Examine on-the -floor work tools and start looking to engage employees on the floor through familiar technological tools. What retailers will find is that when you are providing modern productivity, scheduling and communication technologies that empower and engage millennials in a style that is familiar to them, such as touch screens and app-based interaction, they will have a much more engaged workforce that is more efficient and productive.
Coming next in Part 2 of our interview with John: Five Ways Retailers Can Put Technology to Work to Engage Millennials and Improve the Store Experience.
To learn more about Millennials in the retail workforce, of a recent webinar featuring John West of Workforce Insight and Dave Bruno of JDA.