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Retail workers’ biggest job concerns unveiled in new research

Firstline retail workers are dissatisfied with a lack of communication from management, disengaged from their work and under pressure to maintain their health and wellbeing, new research has found.


More than half of retail workers want clearer communication from their leadership teams to alleviate the pressures they experience in their workplaces, according to a survey of more than 1,000 workers across four industries by Microsoft.

Ian Heard, modern workplace lead at Microsoft Australia told Retailbiz that the data was alarming particularly given the importance of staff satisfaction to customer satisfaction in the increasingly competitive retail market.

“There seems to be a bit of a them and us culture in some retail organisations. It showed through with 61 per cent of firstline worker saying they wanted better communication from the leadership team to manage workplace pressures,” he said.

“Without that feedback loop in physical retail stores it will be very challenging for physical stores to stay competitive.”

Despite poor communication being identified as one of the leading concerns of retail workers, the survey revealed that staff and managers have similar priorities – with customer service the driving priority for retail staff.



The top priority for 63 per cent of firstline workers was improving the customers’ experience, while growing their skills came in second and improving workplace culture came in last.

This lack of engagement with frontline staff is compromising the competitiveness of brick-and-mortar stores, Mr Heard said.

“It strikes me that not being connected to the firstline worker is taking away what is in effect main competitive differentiator between a physical store and online store that uses big data to identify these  different areas already.”

Disengaged workers

The research also found 34 per cent of firstline workers are committed but not engaged in their current role, compare to 15 per cent of business managers.

This disengagement coming from retail staff shows that management need to work harder to engage staff, Mr Heard  said.

“What was a bit of an oxymoron was the massive focus on customer service but out of all industries surveyed there was the greatest disparity between firstline workers and business management. Firstline workers in retail showed up one of strongest in saying they were committed to their roles but not engaged in their current role.”

Mounting pressures

The research also revealed that more than three quarters of business managers and 73 per cent of firstline workers are under growing pressure, saying that they feel the pressure of work when it comes to meeting deadlines or expected outcomes.

With brick-and-mortar stores facing mounting pressures from digital competitors, almost three quarters of business managers and 67 per cent of firstline workers identify with the job pressure of meeting financial performance targets and maintaining a healthy profit margin.

Retail workers are also under growing pressure to maintain their health and wellbeing, the research found, with almost seven out of 10 retail workers saying this is a source of pressure in their jobs.

Firstline workers and business managers experience similar challenges and pressures in the workplace, despite having different business priorities.

Technology shortfalls

Retail staff also cited not having access to the latest technology to be a source of growing concern.

37 per cent of firstline workers in retail claimed they had limited access to the latest devices – with almost half of the respondents saying the biggest impact of technology is it allows them to spend more time with their customers.

Mr Heard said tapping into the latest technologies is a prime opportunity for management to better engage their staff.

“40% retail workers surveyed said they had limited access to the latest technology which if you think about in this modern age is quite startling. firstline workers in the modern age are used to getting feedback and there doesn’t seem to be that feedback loop in retail that’s shining through these stats.”

“There seems to be an environment where people are getting pressed on metrics and metrics are not being delivered. There’s a lack of content there eroding competitive advantage and less customer satisfaction.”

But there are some key ways in which retail management can better engage their workers, Mr Heard said.

“Firstly recognise value of the first line worker. Also recognise these people want to communicate in a fundamentally different way. They need to modernise but that doesn’t mean handing a device to everyone, leverage technology the first line worker already has in their home life.”