There’s a new retail associate on the scene. Millennials are five times more likely to hold a retail job than any other generation, which means businesses need to know how to foster their development, writes Dave Bruno.
In the past decade or so, an entirely new store associate has emerged onto the retail scene. Today’s associates are both well versed and confident in their abilities to use technology and embrace and integrate new gadgets, devices and applications into their lives unlike any preceding generation.
Known as the millennial generation, these associates were born between 1980 and 2000. Comprising 20 percent of the population, millennials are rapidly emerging as the dominant generation in retail’s workforce. According to a recent Millennial Branding and Pay scale study, millennials are five times as likely as any other generation to hold retail merchandising and sales jobs.
Often referred to as the “Me Generation,” millennials in recent years have been stereotyped as self-centred, entitled and lacking the workplace loyalty of the generations that preceded them. However, close scrutiny paints a very different picture of these associates.
While many millennial myths have indeed been dispelled by recent research, one stereotype holds true in virtually every study: Technology is an important aspect of every facet of millennial lifestyles, including their employment choices. Unfortunately, most retailers are failing to live up to their expectations, with almost half of millennials indicating that their managers did not always understand the way they use technology at work.
What then do these expectations mean to retailers looking to recruit, engage and retain millennial workers? While the list of implications is long, three items jump out as high priority issues that need to be addressed:
- Mobility matters – Millennial workers have grown up with small screens in their hands, and in addition to expecting their employers to engage via mobile devices, they are also ideally suited to adopt mobile applications. Tasks at every level of the organisation — from back rooms to the sales floor to the warehouse— can be completed more efficiently and effectively with the help of mobile technologies.
- One way to satisfy workers’ desire for better work/life balance is to offer more flexible scheduling options. Self-service schedule management tools, including shift swapping and bidding for shifts, offered via mobile devices, gives workers much more control over the shifts they work and streamlines the schedule management process — a win-win for employees and retailers alike.
- Modern technologies offer more sophisticated scheduling capabilities that enable store managers to develop schedules that closely align resources to demand patterns. Once schedules align better to demand, the entire business can begin to function more efficiently and effectively, resulting in better customer experiences and also helping to create the type of harmonious and rewarding work environment that millennials desire.
The Key to Meeting Millennial Expectations
From mobility to schedule optimisation, modern workforce management (WFM) technologies help retailers adapt to the desires and expectations of the emerging millennial generation. Modern WFM technologies can provide retailers with a blueprint for overcoming the challenges presented by the growing presence of millennial employees in the workplace.
- Time and attendance – The days when time and attendance was all about punch cards and payroll interfaces are long gone. Modern technologies enable employees to clock in and out via tablets, point-of-sale registers, and even their phones. Collecting and analysing punch data, reducing labour costs and improving compliance are the key time and attendance strategies for industry leading companies today. In addition to interfacing with various input sources, an integrated approach to time and attendance, demand forecasting, and scheduling optimisation helps reduce labour costs, manage schedules, track benefits accruals, administer training and perform job costing.
- Scheduling – Juggling staffing decisions based on demand, union rules, government regulations and employee preferences can be a daunting task. Modern scheduling technologies can help forecast and schedule labour resources according to demand patterns and employee preference — a significant demand for millennial workers — as well as monitor their performance and reward their achievements.
- Task management – With so much work to be done and often conflicting demands on workers’ time, retailers need to make sure that they always have the right people doing the right tasks to meet corporate objectives. By leveraging store-specific compliance data and feedback, execution management solutions can help ensure that the right people, with the right skills, are working on the right tasks.
- Mobility – An integrated mobility platform can enhance every aspect of WFM technology, driving adoption, efficiency and productivity in every corner of the retail store. From self-service scheduling to shift swapping to task management, leading mobility platforms engage the millennial worker on devices they have grown up with, deliver the scheduling flexibility they desire, and make them more productive and engaged employees.
For those retailers struggling to get by on out-dated systems with few mobile capabilities, the clock is ticking. If current trends continue as predicted and millennials comprise one third of the retail workforce by next year, having the tools and technologies in place to recruit, engage and retain these employees will be critical to retailers’ survival.
 “Gen Y on the Job,” Millennial Branding and PayScale, Payscale.com, August 2012