From a school student’s first casual job to a highly experienced store manager, employing the right people takes considerable time. But getting the process right can result in happier, more engaged workers who are less likely to move on.

Despite this, the process is often time-consuming and fraught with errors, particularly given the complexity that creeps in when managing a number of outlets and the high staff turnover in the retail industry. Add in the seasonal requirements for workers in many retail sectors and it’s easy to see why HR and hiring practices in retail businesses aren’t necessarily adding value in the ways they could be.

When onboarding practices aren’t perfect, new employees can become frustrated, which can affect them for the entire length of their employment. This frustration can stem from errors such as being rostered to work at times or on days when the employee has already told managers they’ll be at school or university. Or from commencing the role and finding out they’ve not been provided with the correct tools, passes, or system access provisions. Or, employees notice they’re not being paid correctly because the payroll system has them registered under the wrong conditions. Mistakes on the paperwork can go both ways; retailers could be losing money by accidentally paying employees a higher wage than they’re entitled to, for example.

One of the most effective ways to overcome many of the challenges associated with onboarding new employees in retail businesses is to digitise the process.

As companies in many industries embrace automation as a way to reduce the burden of manual work, retail faces a significant opportunity. Automating and digitising the onboarding process of new employees can deliver huge benefits in terms of time, money, and efficiency.

A digital onboarding process starts from the application itself. By putting application forms on a website such as the retailer’s own, companies can manage the influx of applications more effectively. Forms can be distributed easily, information collected quickly, and details captured in one central place reducing the risk of lost paperwork and time taken to manually forward or manage the applications. They can send these applicants to the correct store depending on their preferences. Hiring managers can review the information digitally from any location, even using their mobile device to do so. This helps them continue to be productive even as they factor in the hiring process.

It’s important to note that, once a candidate has entered their details on the initial application form, they won’t be required to provide that information again. This removes another source of frustration for new employees; endless paperwork in which they have to provide the same information multiple times.

As the selection process unfolds, candidates may need to attend more than one interview or skills-based sessions. Using the digital system, managers can mark candidates as successful or not so they can easily transition to the next round of the selection process until, eventually, they become an employee.

At this point, the employee is tasked with filling out various employment forms both for payment and taxation purposes and to provide information such as their shift availability and preferences, and any relevant training. Digital smart forms are automatically populated with key information before being sent to the employee for completion. This means the employee no longer has to start from scratch in terms of filling out information. Instead, the form already contains all the information the retailer has, and the employee can just fill in the blanks. This makes it easier and faster, and encourages compliance with the forms’ requirements, which, of course, minimises the chance of errors.

The digital system also makes it easy for regional managers to review staffing levels and candidates or new employees. Even though regional managers are rarely in the office, they can use their smart device to review all the information online. This helps reduce any delays in the hiring process that might have occurred because regional or senior managers weren’t available to sign off.

Importantly, because all of the onboarding processes are completed digitally before the employee starts work, this means that their first day on the job is spent being productive, not sitting around waiting for paperwork to be finalised. Adding workflow based on the role means that if the employee requires uniforms, name tags, passes or keys, passwords, or any other tools to do their job, these can all be automatically flagged and arranged in advance so they’re ready for the employee’s first day.

A digital onboarding process sets employees up in the system correctly from the start without errors or delays. This means their experience is smooth and frictionless, which produces more productive and loyal employees.

Another key benefit of digitising the onboarding process is the ability to store payslips and other work-related data for each employee throughout their entire tenure. This simplifies audits and makes it easy for stores to make promotion, pay rise, and termination decisions. The store manager can easily view the employee’s record to see details including how many hours they normally work, how often they’re late or absent from work, and whether they’ve received reprimands or recognition of work well done.

At the end of the employee’s tenure, the digital onboarding system can also be used to streamline offboarding processes. This includes revoking network access or passwords that give the employees access to systems and cash registers, and retrieving any company-owned items that employees may have.

In essence, the entire employee journey, along with the various stages throughout, from the interview, to working as an employee, to offboarding staff can be improved with a digitised process.

By digitising all of these processes, which were previously done manually and often with handwritten information, retailers can streamline the hiring and onboarding process, resulting in workers who are more productive, happier, and easier to manage.

Matt Coad, executive general manager solutions, Upstream