Pandemic stresses retail HR departments

Discussion
Source: Walmart
May 14, 2020
Patricia Vekich Waldron

Retail staffing has become its own version of a “Tale of Two Cities” in the age of COVID-19. Essential retailers, grocers and their ecosystems are hiring like crazy, even as non-essential retailers are firing and furloughing thousands. To meet market demands and safety regulations, retailers must modernize human resources (HR) processes and systems.

A Harvard Business Review report — “Adopting Innovative Technologies Gives HR Leaders a Seat at the Table” — reveals that 74 percent of companies use between one and six tech tools in their HR departments. From online applications, interviews and background checks to payroll, training and scheduling, HR processes must be integrated, automated and streamlined to support short- and long-term business changes.

Restaurants

Restaurants, which have been hit hard, have been creative in implementing new service models and offerings to generate sales and feed communities. Panera Bread is selling groceries and providing meal pick-up, drive-through and home delivery. Chipotle is holding Virtual Lunch Meet-ups to connect customers. Einstein Bagels is selling DIY Pizza Kits, while fast-casual operators Qdoba and El Pollo Loco are offering Family Meals To Go. And many chains are able to sell alcohol-to-go as local beverage commissions have relaxed rules.

In support of these new programs, HR must train and cross-train employees on multiple job functions to accommodate lean staffing levels and develop, roll out and monitor health and safety processes to ensure compliance.

Food retailers

Gorillas (Amazon, Walmart, Target) and grocers are expecting online food sales to grow 40 percent in 2020. These companies will need large numbers of in-store fulfillment, warehouse workers and delivery staff to accommodate this demand. Making the right hire is vital for associates that interface directly with customers or make home deliveries. Digital HR systems can automate screening (criminal record, employment and education verification, drug screening and background checks) to speed high-volume hiring while mitigating risk.

HR must become more virtual, digital and automated so all retailers can make smart hires, optimize candidate pools in real-time, and adapt to new models and changing demand. The industry landscape will continue to evolve. Efficient, flexible and digital HR processes and systems will help retailers effectively balance service, safety and demand now and in the future.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing retail human resources departments at this time? Which tech applications are most helpful to retailers in working through HR challenges and which, if any, have a tendency to become problematic?

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Braintrust
"HR is going to have to step up, find the resources, and put staff at the front of the line."
"AI-driven solutions can make it fast and easy for retailers to rehire former seasonal employees to adapt to fluctuations in demand and turnover."
"Returning employees and new hires need interaction with a live person. The COVID-19 stay at home orders have left us craving more face time, not more screen time."

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9 Comments on "Pandemic stresses retail HR departments"


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Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

We went from one of the lowest unemployment rates in years to the highest – and it happened in a matter of days. The challenge was to find good people. Now there are so many. As my friend Eric Chester – author of the newly released book “Fully Staffed – says, “The hunters are now the hunted.” The biggest problem isn’t proper training. It’s proper hiring. Getting good people who will stay, even when their former jobs at their former companies become available again.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

HR departments have to be everywhere now and instead of managing at a global level, they must manage on an individual level. That means a lot of listening, mentoring, advising — maybe more than before. Digital and virtual options are helpful, but this is a time for being there regardless to help lessen the fear about something we still don’t really know a lot about.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

It isn’t a stretch to think retailer HR departments will start looking more like HR for restaurants with all the health training needed. That said, if they ignore that main element of training — how to be more human in what could feel like a medical facility — they will settle for crumbs when they could have the whole feast. With limits on the number of shoppers that can be in a store, retailers just deliver a branded customer experience, One that doesn’t just stress about cleaning, but connecting in a human way.

Dave Nixon
BrainTrust

The biggest challenge will be the unfortunate process of figuring out WHO to bring back and HOW MANY people for far fewer jobs. Couple that with the acceleration of automation instead of laborers and the increased responsibility for safety and health initiatives, and HR has a very tough road ahead.

Kevin Graff
BrainTrust

I have to approach this from the brick-and-mortar angle, as that’s where I “live.”

The reality is that frontline staff are now way more important than ever. There’s going to be less traffic in the stores for a long time, so the only way to maintain/grow sales is to increase conversion rates and average sale. That falls predominantly on the shoulders of the staff. So amid the need for safety training and protocols is the immense need to give staff the skills and knowledge they need to create a great customer experience, and through that process, drive sales.

HR is going to have to step up, find the resources, and put staff at the front of the line.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Great customer experience demands great people, so retail HR’s top issue is helping talent feel safe and valued. Also, since store labor often represents the biggest expense, HR needs new ways to reduce costs — especially now.

To improve talent acquisition and management, and cost-effectiveness, more retailers are investing in tech solutions that use artificial intelligence. AI helps HR teams free up time by replacing menial tasks with meaningful activities like strategic planning.

AI-driven solutions can also make it fast and easy for retailers to rehire former seasonal employees to adapt to fluctuations in demand and turnover. AI efficiently crunches data to compare applicants’ resumes to roles to efficiently pinpoint a good fit and streamline the recruitment process to attract the best workers.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Higher degree of tech apps and automation? Sure, that make things easier but it’s not what people need right now. HR departments these days are dealing with a lot more than just hiring, and HR certainly isn’t doing training and cross-training associates to do multiple jobs. That happens on the sales floor.

Returning employees and new hires need interaction with a live person. The COVID-19 stay at home orders have left us craving more face time, not more screen time.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

No question HR is stressed by what’s going on. However I caution against all this automation excitement.

For example, screening employees for “most likely to succeed” systems are faux AI. While they can implement algorithms, there is no realistic way to train those algorithms and AI only works when feedback can show whether decisions were right or wrong.

With employment, there’s no way to ever know that someone you rejected “should have been hired.” It’s impossible. As a result, these are only half implemented — and missing the half which is most critical to getting the systems to become fair and accurate.

Step carefully and wisely in these areas.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I think the biggest challenges aren’t really for HR, per se, but rather for the companies unsure of the future. Do you shift gears and shift to what is essentially a new business model, or just try and wait out the current situation?

Of course for the former, the impact on HR will be that they need to hire a whole new group of people with skill sets they’re not used to dealing in — perhaps quite hurriedly — and while their own organization is likely only semi-functional.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"HR is going to have to step up, find the resources, and put staff at the front of the line."
"AI-driven solutions can make it fast and easy for retailers to rehire former seasonal employees to adapt to fluctuations in demand and turnover."
"Returning employees and new hires need interaction with a live person. The COVID-19 stay at home orders have left us craving more face time, not more screen time."

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