Today, on average just one in six firms (15%) rely on a flexible workforce; with 1.5 million temporary employees working in the UK today. In comparison, eight in 10 (80%) retail businesses have hired more agency workers during COVID-19, as unpredictable demand forces brands to re-think their staffing strategies and become more flexible.
While using agency workers has supported the sector during the pandemic (double the amount of organisations who did not use agency workers reported significant hit to their profits in comparison to those who did) the ability to effectively plan long-term will not return. Market conditions change on an almost daily basis, and we all struggle to keep up. In the context of already ailing high streets, the pandemic has hit retail harder than most, and the approaching unpredictability is simply unsustainable for the sector.
When demand uncertainty is high, the right staffing strategy can make or break a business. If you staff for low demand, you might miss out on much needed revenue. If you do the opposite and demand is low, costs can quickly become prohibitive.
Now is the time for retailers to think about short-term workers for the long-term.
Think about flexible staffing as a core strategy, not just for emergencies.
Most retail businesses prefer to have regular workers to rely on, workers who understand their brand, products, and processes, but this can be achieved with flexible workers. It just requires consistency.
Flexible workers are not B-employees. They are ambitious and talented people with personal and career goals that can be achieved more easily with flexible schedules. All you need to do is set up adequate processes to onboard and manage them in a way where they can perform at their best.
By building up a larger pool of preferred workers who work in your stores part-time but regularly, you can keep up the quality and retain knowledge while increasing your flexibility significantly. Such a pool can easily be built on digital staffing platforms, where businesses can hire workers and make them favourites if they are a particularly good fit for their team. Building a relationship with these workers over the year also increases the chances of them being available during peak times like Christmas.
Don’t compromise on quality when hiring and set your workers up for success.
As a retail business, you rely on the interpersonal skills and attitude of your workers like few other businesses. The benefit of flexible hiring is that you can try a larger number of candidates, test them for a few hours, and only re-hire the best ones. By building a pool of qualified candidates who you have personally tested, you will be ready for all eventualities. This can save you time during the recruitment process because you can see workers’ previous experiences and the ratings of other employers in a simple interface.
Once you have made your hires, ensure flexible workers receive the same essential training that you would provide to new full-time hires. Providing a high-quality onboarding process will set your workers up for success, so assume that you will re-hire these workers and that your investment will pay off. To give you maximum flexibility in the short-term, flexible work strategies rely on longer-term commitments.
Don’t overload your own team with admin and payroll.
From day one, flexible workers automatically have a legal right to minimum wage, statutory holiday pay and the statutory minimum length of break times. You need to ensure that they do not exceed 48 weekly working hours and they are entitled to protections, including from discrimination. It is important to track their length of service, because after 12 weeks they become entitled to additional benefits. Before hiring, make sure you do all relevant right-to-work checks.
If you pursue a flexible work strategy, it is worth spending some time to decide whether to hire directly or work with a staffing agency. One benefit of using an agency is that you outsource the HR risk. You pay the agency like any other vendor and are not responsible for any of the above. The agency will track working hours in detail and you avoid the admin cost of running a potentially complicated payroll. Another benefit is that agencies can give you guidance on competitive wage levels, which is especially relevant during peak season.
The downside? You need to pay an agency fee. However, you can avoid retainers and flat fees by choosing one that charges via a multiplier on each hired hour. It is worth doing the math because an agency fee can still work out cheaper than doing payroll in-house.
Staffing from a broad pool can be a powerful tool, provided it is used correctly and organisations behave ethically towards those they hire. A third of the businesses we spoke to have implemented a strategy for hiring agency workers. Can you afford not to?
Kit Glover, UK MD of digital staffing platform Coople