How the U.S. labor pool is shrinking based on age ranges. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, labor force participation rates 1977 through November 2021)
2. How Flexible Can You Be?
Grocery retailers have an opportunity to rethink how work is done, replacing unpredictable schedules, income and work environments with something more attractive. In 2019, Hyer teamed up with Meijer to bring a flexible labor model to the beloved Michigan-based retailer. “They gave us five stores to pilot,” Dempsey says, and were thrilled with the results — which led the rollout of Hyer across Meijer’s 255-store footprint.
Giving customers such as Meijer the ability to ramp up labor as needed to satisfy the customer demand and ramp down through slow times, has paid off in big ways. “Using Hyer allows us to provide a better customer experience, a better stocked store — at the lowest price,” says Todd Weer, SVP of stores at Meijer. Today, Hyer has partnered with thousands of outlets across 17 states, including national, regional and local grocers.
“Increased wages are going to put more pressure on the structural changes going on right now,” Dempsey says. “It may force companies to rethink their workforce model. They're going to have to look at the labor, a typical job, redefine it and identify what we would call ‘1099 task capabilities’ that you can peel out. And then use labor on demand, use the gig workforce, and you can flex up and down as needed.”
Dempsey says that he’s seeing demand for gig work from a wide variety of generations. “It cuts across really the entire population base,” he adds. “The majority is middle Millennials, but it’s also people that are older, in retirement, looking at a couple hours. And it skews a little bit higher on the female side.”
3. ‘Does the Job Deserve the Employee?’
In its most recent fiscal quarter, FedEx said that it’s getting a good response from a hiring strategy that includes offering employees an app that provides flexible schedule options (the ability to pick up extra shifts when convenient, or swap shifts with other workers). All companies, and grocers especially, should take these kinds of steps beyond wages and benefits to assess the job experience itself and make the work more attractive to potential employees, Leaman says.
“This begins with removing friction that often creates frustration and disengagement,” she adds. “On-demand pay is a great example, as it’s giving employees who often struggle with monthly bills immediate access to their wages.”
Other steps include leveraging technology, specifically in the areas of mobile learning and engagement, to make sure that employees can access the training and information they need to solve problems in the flow of work, regardless of how long they’ve been on the job.
In the Axonify study, burnout is the No. 1 reason that front-line employees are leaving, reinforcing the idea that employees want a better work experience.
“But No. 2 was appreciation,” Leaman notes. “This shows just how important managers are in front-line work. To many employees, the store or department manager are the company, and they rely on these managers to help them through challenging times. Grocers must take care of their managers and make sure they have the tools needed to properly support their team members, instead of always focusing on administrative tasks. Many managers are promoted into their roles because they were great at front-line execution, but this doesn’t mean they have the skills to lead their people. Companies must ensure managers have the training needed to create great work experiences.”
Overall, Leaman says, front-line employers must adopt a new mindset if they hope to attract and retain motivated, talented employees.
As Leaman puts it: “The question is no longer ‘Does the employee deserve this job?’ Instead, it must become ‘Does the job deserve the employee?’”