Achieving sustainable, long-term growth has long been the holy grail for organisations in the retail sector. Profits matter, but they aren’t necessarily the only key to growth. Considerations like how a business impacts and engages with its employees, broader society and the environment need to form part of the plan – and this is perhaps truer in our post-Covid world than ever before.

As one of the industries hardest-hit by the pandemic, many people working in retail during this time have reassessed what is truly important to them and reimagined their approach to work, alongside their expectations of employers. The result is increasing pressure on businesses to focus not just on profits, but on their people – their best asset and the key to success.

Within the context of this – during a time of global volatility and local uncertainty – The Access Group undertook a research piece to benchmark Australian workplaces today and establish if there was a way in which organisations could better deliver across societal, environmental and personal well-being markers in the name of long-term prosperity.

The outcome was our Powering Profits and Prosperity report, which revealed that less than half (43%) of the retail and wholesale industry feel engaged in their work, with 5% admitting they are disengaged. Only around a third (36%) are willing to go above and beyond, and just half (47%) believe their organisation is successful in retaining talent.

As a provider of business software solutions that deliver better ways of working, we are always seeking to understand how people work, how they want to work, and how organisations can better enable their people. So, what can retail organisations do to engage and retain their staff at a time when financial concerns are top of mind and the talent market is tight?

People want more than just money

When it comes to what drives people to go that extra mile, the good news for retail businesses is it’s actually not just about money. While economic factors understandably remain top of employees’ concerns, societal and psychological factors are also important considerations for those working in the retail sector, across every generation.

When asked about the workplace factors that would encourage retail employees to above and beyond, respondents highlighted three interesting areas for consideration – Strong leadership (63%); additional workplace perks (59%) and a more positive workplace culture (49%).

Additionally, 66% of the workforce felt that “being part of an organisation that minimises its environmental footprint” was an important consideration for their workplace.

Having employees who don’t feel empowered to make a difference is a recipe for disengagement and should be considered a warning to look beyond the balance sheets.

Autonomous organisations perform best

Within the wholesale and retail sectors, a command and control management style dominates (37%), but a third (31%) of those surveyed presented a strong desire to shift towards more autonomous ways of working.

By moving towards a more autonomous working style, organisations can enable people to shape their work and work environment to not only achieve the goals they set, but to create deeper and more enduring value.

Here, our research shows that businesses which support greater autonomy deliver on average 13% better across critical outcomes like customer loyalty, financial performance, retaining talent, strong reputation among the community, and a thriving partner network, versus command and control style organisations. Autonomous workers are also more likely to be engaged (45% vs 31%), willing to go above and beyond at work (45% vs 30%) and stay at their organisation longer (54% vs 38%).

An essential part of moving towards the autonomy Australian retail workers and organisations want is of course through effective processes and technology, which enable teams and gives individuals the freedom to do more.

This is how we unlock true passion and discretionary effort, and ensures that our people are engaged and working with a sense of purpose that is required to deliver the long-term prosperity every organisation strives to achieve.

As a new generation of workers emerge, autonomy, societal responsibility and personal wellbeing are fast becoming top priorities. Our research shows organisations that deliver here will clearly benefit from a more connected and engaged workforce and this is what drives not only profits, but true prosperity in the long run.

Kerry Agiasotis is president of Asia Pacific at The Access Group.