The last 12 months have seen many column inches address the issue of workplace happiness, as well as the debate about the Minimum and Living Wage.
Sometimes it’s both at once, as seen with the press coverage on Sports Direct. Specifically, the number of low-earning employees it has on zero hours contracts and what the Unite union described as ‘Victorian’ working practices in its warehouses.
Then there’s the New York Times’ high-profile expose? of working conditions at Amazon’s US warehouses – and the effect of those conditions on staff wellbeing and morale. Back on these shores, the UK was ranked 30th on the Global Workforce Happiness Index by employer branding firm Universum. So there’s room to improve.
How should employers in the UK tech retail be looking to get the best performance out of their workforce?
According to independent HR consultant Sarah Jones, it should all start with the development of positive relationships with front line staff members, which she says will be returned to the employer with increased sales and lower recruitment costs.
“[High Street retail] is a competitive workplace and good staff can be hard to find and even harder to retain,” says Jones. “The old adage that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bad bosses, is as true today as it ever was. Develop your line managers to be great people managers, get teams working properly and increase communication and training. Create a vision for yourself as an employer and create an environment people want to be part of.”
Of course ‘employee engagement’ is often banded about as a term to capture how staff feel about the firm they work for – the more engaged someone is with you as an employer, the more they will show that to customers.
But Jones stresses that this basic adage is ignored at the employer’s peril: “Get your employee engagement right and your staff will be your best customer service asset. Get it wrong and you become a mediocre High Street retailer, with staff who don’t care about you or your customers.”
Then you have the often thorny issue of remuneration. There is an increase in the National Minimum Wage (NMW) due in April 2016, also known as the National Living Wage, which should not be confused (but all too often is) with the The Living Wage. In short, the former is mandatory and the latter voluntary.
“Clearly, the key disadvantage of paying the voluntary Living Wage is cost – it’s a considerable increase over and above the NMW and less robust business models could struggle with the additional overheads,” says Jones.
“However, the key advantage is being seen as an employer that supports sustainable living for its employees. This helps to position traditionally lower paid roles such as sales assistants, bar staff and hospitality as opportunities for long-term employment and away from being regarded as transitional roles between jobs or before a career.”
One manager at a medium sized High Street chain who preferred not be named says: “Even if you’ve worked your way up from the shop-floor, things will have changed a lot since then”, he says. “Tech, society and education have all evolved over the last 10 years. Talk to your employees, really listen to ideas, suggestions, review your processes and procedures and be prepared to make changes. Concentrate on removing things that get in the way of people delivering a great job and champion success in as many ways you can.”
Is there a way tech can help boost employee happiness? James Cullen, CEO of corporate treating service Givvit Rewards, thinks so.
“Making your staff happy doesn’t have to be about grand, costly gestures,” he says. “It’s about taking the time to make them feel valued and recognising their contribution to the company. Bonuses are great but can seem impersonal and are not always affordable. Team drinks can bring staff together as well as boost morale, but what about non-drinkers?
“Making sure employees feel valued with rewards beyond their pay packets can do much more than providing a shot in the arm – it can help keep a good team together. Well worth the price of a cup of coffee,” he adds.