Are you equipped for the Future Consumer Workforce?

COVID-19 has changed the way we see the world. Going outside without wearing a mask now feels unnatural, coughing in public has become a thing of the past and staying two metres away from people in social settings is no longer viewed as an insult.

Whilst for many it was back to a ‘relative’ normality once the pandemic’s restrictions eased, employees in shops and restaurants are still served with a constant reminder of the horrors of the virus, with aggressive cleaning regimes and anti-fog face guards now entrenched in their ways of working. But what if the acrylic divider screens that protected us from a coughing fit also serve to shield workers from the very same organisations they worked for?

Our global study on the Future Consumer Workforce sought to establish how well equipped the workforce in large retail organisations was to be able to respond to the major issues and transformation agendas that every retail leader we spoke to were pursuing with urgency, transforming their supply chains and customer experiences, investing huge amounts of cash in the process.

In turn, we asked retail employees questions about their working lives and one question’s litany of answers stood out to me – “please describe any change or transformation agenda your organisation is going through”.

A handful mentioned things such as organisational restructuring or redundancies, but the overwhelming majority told us the biggest changes they were aware of were “COVID safety measures” or quite simply told us ‘None’.

Now there are several possible reasons for this massive disconnect in leadership’s understanding and the extent that their customer facing employees know about changes within the business they work for, but in my view, there are two main contenders.

The first is that the pandemic has managed to intervene with business plans of these companies to such a degree that it has halted any previous plans for transformation in their tracks, and within the last 6 months their main priority has simply become to keep customers safe and avoid losing staff members due to COVID infection. The second and arguably most plausible reason for this is that employees are simply not communicated with about what the next steps are for the company, and therefore their answers were naturally steered towards the only changes they could see around them – in safety measures.

This disconnect isn’t only consequential for the employees themselves (creating demotivation, confusion, and a feeling of being de-valued) but also for the leaders of these organisations. In some of our discussions with the leadership teams it became apparent that a recurrent issue was a struggle to both recruit and retain workers, which feeds into the idea that these essential front-line workers are losing their enthusiasm for working for businesses that haven’t yet found a way to really connect with their employees. As these major players in the retail and service industry become larger and larger, the divorce between the leaders and employees grows to such an amount that a crucial line of communication becomes lost. How can such a large-scale team begin to come together on the same page?

This is just one of the issues that we are determined to solve. Connecting employees with leaders could be just the thing these organisations need to boost morale, productivity, and employee satisfaction.

It’s time to take down those Perspex divider screens and unify.

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