Consumer & Retail: 3 steps to respond to rising & evolving talent challenge

Key steps to help consumer and retail leaders manage talent, address employee needs and nurture employee satisfaction

Robin Rasmussen

Robin Rasmussen

Principal, Human Capital Advisory , KPMG US

+1 415-608-1139

The Consumer & Retail landscape of 2020 can feel like two parallel universes. In one are the retailers and consumer companies generating record sales and shareholder returns in our current environment. In the other are companies hit hard by COVID-19; many struggling to stay afloat and emerge on the other side of this new reality. Across the board, it continues to be one of the most challenging times to manage talent.

CEOs seem to agree. In a recent KPMG survey of Consumer & Retail CEOs, 14% pointed to talent as one of the greatest threats to their organization’s growth. And while CEOs are wise to recognize the importance of managing talent, they may be underestimating what’s at stake in today’s environment. In fact, findings of another KPMG survey – the American Worker Survey fielded in July 2020 – suggests that Consumer & Retail employees are experiencing significant challenges compared to employees in other industries.

Not surprisingly, three-quarters of the American Worker Survey, Consumer & Retail respondents reported being essential workers (74%), a much higher proportion than workers in other industries surveyed (59%). In addition, 72% of Consumer & Retail respondents said they are currently working fully or mostly in a physical or office location. Across the board, retail workers’ attitudes are different from those of other workers surveyed – likely due to their in-person work experiences during COVID-19.

Consumer & Retail CHROs often manage diverse workforces that include salaried corporate professionals as well as a variety of hourly back-office and front-line workers. Our new reality has raised the stakes – and increased the complexity – when it comes to meeting all workers’ needs for safety, flexibility and overall employer support.

Consider, for example, that Consumer & Retail workers are more likely than others to say the demands of their job have increased (84% vs. 77%). Additionally, half (51%) say their mental health has decreased compared to 45% in other sectors. KPMG also asked workers what their organization has done to provide mental health support. As noted below, many Consumer & Retail organizations are taking steps to support their workforce through a variety of resources, policies and programs:

  • Provided flexible work schedules to meet non-work needs (31% of retail workers)
  • Encouraged employees to focus on their mental health (26%)
  • Encouraged employees to take paid time off (26%)
  • Provided resources developed by the organization (22%)
  • Created an environment where they felt comfortable addressing mental health (19%)
  • Provided access to mental health professionals (17%)

Companies should continue to evaluate these measures and determine additional ways to help.

When we asked Consumer & Retail workers about the preparations their employer has taken to support a return to the physical workspace, 61% said their organization had implemented health and safety regulations for the office or physical location. The percentages were lower for other measures: phased reopening of the office or physical location (39%), allowance of non-mandatory office or physical location attendance until employees feel safe (31%), and surveys of employees on their preferred transition back (22%). Among those who can do their job virtually, the most valued aspect is flexible or staggered hours during the day (56%).

As the industry continues to navigate the aftermath of COVID-19, how can CHROs and leadership help address workers’ stresses and strains – nurturing employee satisfaction and engagement? The answers will vary by workforce segment. We suggest consideration in the following areas:

Employee experience. Creating (or updating) worker personas is one of the best ways to understand and meet the diverse needs of a workforce. With the personas in place, consider how policies can be tailored to each employee persona’s needs, preferences and priorities. Although standardization has been the mantra, now is the time to explore tailoring policies based on workforce segment and persona. 

Workforce flexibility. During COVID-19, hourly front-line workers and salaried corporate staff alike are facing some overlapping pressures – namely, supporting at-home schooling and filing gaps in childcare. Yet tools for supporting these worker segments will vary. Corporate workers may benefit from greater flexibility to work from home as they navigate day-to-day uncertainties. While front-line workers can’t work remotely, they can benefit from digital scheduling systems that make it fast and easy to pick up additional shifts or trade shifts when childcare falls through.

Earned wage access (EWA). During times of financial strain, front-line employees may also value faster access to their paychecks. Companies can support their employees with access to funds earned ahead of their traditional payday cycle. Employers can provide workers with immediate access through their payroll provider or a third-party EWA vendor.

In this challenging environment, layoffs and furloughs are creating an overabundance of available talent; at the same time, the threat of such measures is keeping some workers in place. That won’t always be the case. Worker sentiments from COVID-19 – about how well their employers looked out for their health, safety and wellbeing – will shape their “stay or go” decisions for the long term. CHROs are at the forefront to position and deliver the policies, technologies and support that will keep workers engaged and productive.