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How to better support shift workers as retail, leisure and hospitality businesses reopen

After a traumatising year of ongoing uncertainty, the retail, leisure and hospitality industry will soon once again reopen their doors to the British public. And this time - whilst we can never be certain of what the future holds - it’s for good.

Now more than ever, businesses must consider how to support their front line employees as they return to work for the foreseeable future.

The deskless workforce has experienced a toll on their mental health during Covid-19

The nature of shift working is uncertain at the best of times. Fear of sickness, a lack of stability and poor communication are just some of the common repercussions of irregular work patterns. Yet in the last 12 months, teams have faced more turbulent challenges and pressures than ever before.

Covid-19 has taken a toll on all aspects of wellbeing; socially, financially, physically and emotionally. Through redundancies, furlough, self-isolation and pay cuts, individuals have been shaken to the core, resulting in monumental stress and a lack of job security. And that’s on top of day to day health concerns.

No more is a basic level of pre-pandemic workplace support enough to cater for employee needs. With the importance of mental health, flexible working and employee wellbeing growingly everpresent, businesses should - and can - do more to minimise uncertainty and look after their deskless workers.

We need a mindset shift; not a quick fix

Flexibility and stability are not as easily implemented in a shift-based environment. Retail, leisure, healthcare and hospitality businesses have structured requirements; scheduled teams must be balanced, labour costs must be considered. Certain variables can’t be overcome to cater for simple employee support systems.

But we can't sweep bad practices under the carpet anymore, or employ a one-size-fits all solution. Instead we need to shift the way we think about flexibility for the deskless workforce.

Rather than forcing a square peg into a round hole, we must give people the appropriate tools they need to improve their work-life balance.

The demand for better shift scheduling software

Many shift workers are negatively impacted and have no control over their work-life balance due to unfair and unpredictable scheduling. Manually created rotas are inflexible and not designed to adapt to unexpected changes, leaving employees unmotivated and disengaged.

Our research study found that almost half (49%) of retailers are told by employees that they are unhappy with their given shifts. 28% say this is because their current system is too inflexible, whilst a further 29% have requested more control over their own shift patterns.

This continued obstacle has led to a growing appetite for collaborative scheduling; from both employees and their managers. When asked what impact this approach could have on their business, the response from retailers was hugely positive.

Over half said a collaborative digital scheduling tool would increase staff happiness and make employees feel more empowered. A further 46% said a flexible, technology-led approach has the power to improve employee wellbeing. This latter point is particularly powerful, demonstrating that collaborative scheduling has a massive impact on the lives of individual team members.

Collaborative schedules improve work life balance

How easy is it for your team members to swap a shift and get it approved? How often are requested amends forgotten? Is each employees’ availability known, or considered, before rotas are created? These are just a few areas that consistently impact an individual’s life. But with better scheduling, we can immediately instill certainty and support into our approach to employee wellbeing.

Rather than simply telling staff when they are expected to work, businesses must implement a balanced approach, allowing workers to have autonomy over their work-life balance. This combines enabling employee input into the schedule, providing advance notice and offering stability through a regular pattern of shifts. Each of these factors give people back control over their own lives, allowing greater ability to plan ahead and manage personal responsibilities.

This approach also grows a business’ trust factor. By implementing a regulated digital solution, changes to the schedule are concrete. No longer can rotas change with lno notice; a common occurrence that can have a serious impact on people’s stability and stress levels. With this, bias is also removed. Technology-led automated systems ensure fairness in rotas, never favouring one worker over another, meaning that things like unpopular shits e.g. weekends or overtime are transparently and fairly distributed. The certainty of shift work is therefore increased, offering a transparent, structured workflow.

Collaborative scheduling additionally reduces concerns around job security. Payroll integrations within rota management tools remove room for human error, providing automatic T&A clock ins and timesheets. This provides the reassurance that employees will be paid for the hours they work in a timely manner.

Accessible payroll products such as Earnd and Hastee Pay are also increasing the level of employee support at a time where financial vulnerability is on the rise. With immediate access, employees can withdraw money faster; in some cases as soon as their shift has ended. This has already proven successful for shift workers within the NHS who were provided the service free of charge during the pandemic.

In summary

By supporting our shift workers, we are not only guaranteed to grow a happier, healthier workforce; we will increase productivity levels and directly affect business metric and kpis too. During the pandemic, the NHS reported dramatically higher productivity rates alongside an improved work-life balance for their people. Over in retail, Gap have seen a 7% increase in customer NPS alongside improvements in staff engagement, store conversion and average transaction value following an experiment into collaborative scheduling.

As the retail, hospitality and leisure industry begin to emerge post-pandemic - a historical chapter in business - it’s clear that now is the time to reinvent how we support our staff. Talent is at a premium, employees are reconsidering their work values. Many businesses are already taking the leap into permanent flexible working.

More must be done to differentiate yourself as an employer in 2021 and collaborative scheduling is an obvious solution.

Rotageek’s interactive rota management software is trusted by leading businesses worldwide. Read more about how businesses such as Pret A Manger, Lush and Merlin Entertainments are working to support their teams in flexible, yet structured ways by embracing technology here.

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