Modern Training

The most under-used tool for maximizing labor productivity in grocery? Stability.

Posted on: August 14, 2023Updated on: April 9, 2024By: Maliyah Bernard

Despite ample open roles and a plethora of “now hiring” signs, grocers still face challenges finding and keeping experienced, knowledgeable staff. The struggle to stand out has echoed across the industry since the onset of the pandemic. Now, to reach the talent they so desperately need, grocers must anticipate (and deliver on) the changing needs of prospective associates in ways other workplaces don’t. 

Our recent trends report revealed that one particular need grocery workers are looking to get met is stability. That means livelihood but also development and upskilling—everything that makes workers feel safe and secure. Unfortunately, this is a pressing need that grocery organizations often overlook, which is a huge mistake in this tighter labor market. Part of the reason it’s often overlooked is that organizational leaders think it’s not really something they can provide at scale. But that’s not necessarily true—they just need to get a bit creative.

Axonify Grocery Robert Lowdon Photography Grocery associates at work

The business case for employee stability

As the ones tasked with assisting customers, keeping shelves stocked and maintaining a clean work environment, grocery associates play an integral role in organizational success. But they need the proper support in and out of the workplace to be in the right mindset and ready to deliver great customer experiences.

Stability and associates’ ability to get things done at work are highly connected. A recent report by RedThread Research, which offers insight into what frontline teams need to succeed, found that one of the top three barriers to frontline performance is a lack of stability in associates’ personal lives or finances.

“Employees’ performance can suffer when they are exhausted or anxious about these types of personal challenges. And organizational performance can suffer if employers are forced to run short-staffed, risk safety or quality issues, deal with high turnover, etc.”

Getting Real About the Frontline Workforce

The critical role of livelihood in stability

Research by Joseph Fuller and Manjari Raman into the management of the future of work found that employers need to consider personal circumstances to understand what matters to employees. 

“No matter how hard or how long they work, many low-wage workers cannot climb out of poverty,” they write in their Harvard Business Review article, The High Cost of Neglecting Low-Wage Workers. “Workers who live in households earning less than $40,000 a year—sometimes even less than $20,000—are often on the verge of homelessness, food insecurity and insolvency. Employers who are oblivious to their personal circumstances are unable to see what really matters to them: stability and security.”

Feeling more motivated to work for an equitable wage isn’t revolutionary. Still, the growing impacts of inflation and rising living costs have made fair compensation more than a nice-to-have—it’s a requirement. Leaders say the power of choice about where they work is in employees’ hands, and grocers need to find creative ways to offer stability and livelihood if they hope to get workers to choose to build their careers with their brand.

Using flexibility to foster stability 

While offering higher wages and hiring bonuses are great perks to get talent through the door, compensation must be coupled with a flexible workplace culture to get grocery workers to stay engaged long-term.

Take a look at your organization’s employee journey. Are there possibilities to give associates autonomy over scheduling to swap or trade shifts easily? Can your managers have flexibility in their hours and reduce their weekly or monthly workload when needed? 

These offerings have not been traditionally available to grocery workers because they’re hard to achieve at scale. But as technology, enablement and employee experience systems evolve, they’re becoming more possible—and more expected by associates.

“We’ve taken a look at our schedules in general to allow for more of a gig approach to how our associates can work. They can bid on shifts, forfeit shifts, request time off, swap shifts… From a flexibility standpoint, we’ve put an emphasis on breaking down those traditional retail and grocery scheduling walls.”

Tom Rudar, Talent Manager at Heinen’s Grocery Store, In The Know Episode 15: Finding the Formula for Solving the Labor Shortage Problem

Other ways to prioritize stability 

Stability can also be fostered by offering new upskilling and development opportunities and finding other ways to show empathy that will help associates feel a sense of belonging and ownership at work.

Survey responses from associates regarding employee experience and frontline success

Driving this sense of ownership can also be achieved through developing employee community and recognition, both of which grocery associates identified as top drivers of success and happiness at work. And the impact will ripple across productivity, retention and recruitment, all critical factors in today’s labor market.

Your secret to maximizing labor productivity in volatile times

As staffing challenges in grocery persist, grocery leaders need to get familiar with what associates want and need out of their jobs so your stores can continue to move in the right direction and deliver an associate experience worthy of recruiting the exceptional people you want representing your brand. And currently, one of the top things your people want is stability. 

Get your copy of our trends report to learn more about the most prominent trends shaping the grocery employee experience and the tactics leaders use to maximize productivity and performance.

Maliyah Bernard

Maliyah Bernard is an academic writer turned content writer. As a former frontline worker, she loves writing about all the ways organizations can support these essential workers smarter.