It’s a challenging time for retailers right now – but then again, when hasn’t it been? Every year, new headlines emerge about the state of the retail sector and what it means for Australian jobs and the economy. Recently, reports from the Australian Retailers Association have shown that retailers are now finding it so difficult to hire new workers that some companies are at risk of collapse.

There has rarely been a more important time for retailers to focus on retaining the good staff they already have while looking for new talent. So, how can retailers focus more closely on retention?

The solution lies in communication. Good internal communication with employees goes a long way towards building trust, engagement, and job satisfaction. This is not as easy as it seems; with constant shift changes, new store requirements, OH&S standards, and seasonal casuals onboarding and departures – the day-to-day business of retail, and therefore communications within retailers, is demanding and fast.

However, this doesn’t mean good comms can’t be achieved. There are several ways retailers can improve their internal communication to retain star employees and create an environment that attracts new talent. 

First, it is critical retailers work to create evenly-spread communications, shared with all staff, that sets a baseline of information right across the company, from the corporate team to frontline shift workers. Retailers are, in some ways, naturally susceptible to struggling with this. With multiple stores, shift-rostered staff, and many part-time and casual frontline workers, it can be challenging for retailers to ensure everyone gets the same information in real-time – but it is vital.

For example, when employees hear about company updates that affect them through the grapevine, it becomes harder for managers to maintain a solid level of trust with their teams. It also stokes the rumour mill in times of difficulty, such as when sales are down, or job cuts are being made.

Therefore, consistency of message means consistency of staff experience and a more equal, trusting, and positive environment – which helps bolster a reliably positive customer experience as well. 

Second, retailers must provide channels to facilitate two-way communications with employees. While many staff are comfortable asking questions of their store manager, some are not; they may lack confidence, worry that it may negatively affect their job, or not know if it’s the right thing to do.

Providing channels for employees to publicly, or anonymously, raise concerns, give feedback, or ask questions regularly helps prevent staff issues from festering away. It also lifts some pressure away from middle management, who are often at the coal face of receiving feedback and questions. Different managers traditionally will also share messages and answer questions in their own way which, despite their best efforts, can lead to inconsistencies and therefore misinformation.

Once you have the feedback though, what do you do with that? These channels come with an obligation to follow through – after all, if an employee submits an issue or question and never sees a result, they’ll feel that it’s just gone off into an uncaring void. Two-way comms gives retailers the real-time feedback they need, a finger on the pulse of the daily frontline experience in their own company, and it should be prioritised and answered promptly to ensure staff feel happy in their roles and in turn offer a great in-store experience. 

Third, we often hear from retailers that they’re concerned their younger frontline workers aren’t really engaged with the company, don’t care about their values and are simply there to collect a paycheck; however, this, in my opinion, is not true. Research shows one in three (39% Gen Z; 34% Millennials) have turned down employers that do not align with their values.

To engage these younger members of the workforce, employers must remember they are strongly motivated by understanding company values. Consistently and clearly articulating these values and vision help employees understand how they fit into the big picture. Communicating personal perspectives from senior leaders is also important; moments of self-reflection and compassionate leadership help demonstrate the company’s values strongly and clearly from the top.

Good internal comms also support stronger diversity, equity, and inclusion. For instance, many frontline workers do not speak English as a first language. By using platforms, like Staffbase, to communicate in a variety of languages, this will help retailers ensure that all their staff feel included and valued.

To sum it all up – retailers are unquestionably operating in a candidate-driven market, amongst the other challenges they’re facing. Retail leaders need to listen closely to the needs of their workforce and share frequent positive, informative updates to support employee morale, reduce turnover, and bolster productivity. Not only will sharing this help employees feel valued, informed, and envision a future with their employer, it will also see a high return on investment for retail employers too.

Ramak Salamat is vice president of APAC at Staffbase.