Combating Unplanned Retail Absence

This post is submitted by Joyce Maroney, Executive Director of the Workforce Institute.

During the holiday shopping season, retailers are more dependent than ever on their workers as they service harried customers.  If those customers are venturing into stores rather than shopping online, they expect to find staff who are available, willing and able to help them.  Unfortunately, that help can be hard to come by when store managers find themselves shorthanded due to employee absenteeism and turnover.

According to our most recent retail research, 47% of retail managers believe that absenteeism has a significant impact on customer satisfaction while 42% believe that it negatively impacts their store revenue.  We also found that more than half of retailers worldwide (52 percent) see a direct correlation between poor employee engagement and increased staff turnover

This recent study “What Came First: Retail Absenteeism or Low Engagement?” is the second installment of our Global Retail Absence survey.  The first installment examined the impact of absenteeism on store operations while this installment looks at the impact of absenteeism on employee morale and engagement.  

Our respondents indicate that they understand that employees who are happier with their work conditions – especially when it comes to flexibility – are more likely to cover their shifts and less likely to leave for greener pastures.  Successful retailers understand that they need to treat their employees with trust, and support their need for flexibility with policies and tools that enable them to easily manage their schedules, including self service options to change their schedules and swap shifts as needed.  

 You can read the detailed findings of the research below

Unplanned absence and poor engagement fuel chaos, drive turnover.

  • Retailers worldwide estimate that 7 percent of labor hours are scheduled but not worked, and many view unplanned absence as one of their organisation’s most difficult,complex and time-consuming issues.
  • Retail managers in the UK (63 percent), USA (63 percent), and Germany (61 percent) feel strongest that poor employee engagement has a big impact on unplanned employee absence.
  • More than half of retailers worldwide (52 percent) see a direct correlation between poor employee engagement and increased staff turnover1, with retailers in the USA (61 percent) and UK (55 percent) seeing the strongest connection.

Employee engagement can drive – or degrade – store success.

  • Retailers worldwide believe absenteeism has a big impact on customer satisfaction (47 percent) and store revenue (42 percent) – which are the top two metrics retailers say they use to measure productivity.
  • Retailers recognize that a greater focus on work-life balance (62 percent) and workforce scheduling technology (59 percent) would have a postive impact on productivity.
  • Globally, nearly half of all retailers (43 percent) are not using an automated solution to manage individual work preferences and availability. Lacking an intelligent solution, retail managers in the UK (40 percent) struggle with managing employee preferences, citing this as one of their biggest workforce management challenges.


Shift-swap technology can solve absence woes, yet only half of retailers use it effectively.

  • One-third of retail managers (34 percent) say managing shift-swap requests is one of the biggest workforce management challenges they face as an organisation.
  • France(59 percent) and the U.S. (53 percent) lead the way using shift-swap technology, but elsewhere adoption falls short – especially in the UK (44percent) and Canada (40 percent).
  • Only 23 percent of retailers worldwide enable self-service shift swapping on a mobile device.
  • Shift-swapping without manager approval is most common in France (32 percent) and Germany (30 percent), though, overall, one in four retailers manage shift swaps this way.
  • Retailers remain optimistically open to change: Many expect that an innovative shift-swapping solution would have a positive impact on employee and store productivity (67percent and 65 percent, respectively), work-life balance (64 percent), staff motivation (58 percent), morale (55 percent), turnover (53 percent), and customer experience (50 percent).

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