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Unplanned Absence Wreaks Havoc

Joyce Maroney

According to a survey of 800 retail managers across multiple countries conducted by The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated, for every 10 hours of in-store labour budgeted, more than one hour is wasted due to staffing misalignment caused by unplanned employee absence. Contributor Joyce Maroney, Executive Director – The Workforce Institute – Kronos

Absenteeism drives understaffing worldwide and poses significant workforce management challenges for retail organisations, with many citing a significant impact on productivity, labour costs, store revenue, and customer satisfaction.

The Global Retail Absence survey, conducted with Coleman Parkes Research, analyses the responses of retail managers across Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S. to examine the broad impact of absenteeism on retail organisations with more than 1,000 employees. The survey exposes the corrosive effects that unplanned absences have on store operations, which, according to more than half of retail managers worldwide (52 percent), is one of their organisation’s most difficult, complex, and time-consuming issues.

Retailers are understaffed 25 percent of the time due to last-minute absenteeism.
Faced with a 7 percent average rate of unplanned absence (i.e. shifts are scheduled but unexpectedly not worked), retailers in the U.K. (74 percent), Canada (72 percent), France (71 percent), Germany (69 percent), Australia (64 percent), and the U.S. (61 percent) are understaffed more than 25 percent of the time.

Retailers in the U.K. (44 percent) and the U.S. (41 percent) are hit hardest by absenteeism on the weekends, while in Germany (33 percent) the highest rate of absence typically occurs on Mondays.

For the most part, retailers are given just one to three hours’ notice when an employee is not going to show up for work. These numbers are highest in the U.K. (53 percent), the U.S. (49 percent), and Canada (40 percent). The impact of filling these shifts on short notice means that one in four retailers (26 percent) are working with staff that have the wrong skills at least half the time.

The top three operational downfalls of absenteeism cited by retailers worldwide are staff productivity (58 percent), customer satisfaction (47 percent), and store revenue (42 percent). Findings additionally show absenteeism has an above-average impact on staff productivity in the U.S., (69 percent), customer satisfaction in Canada (52 percent), and store revenue in France (55 percent).

Filling vacant shifts on the fly is stressful for managers and disruptive to a retailer’s bottom line. An average 6 percent of labour hours each month are worked to cover issues such as unplanned absence but have not been formally scheduled. This causes unnecessary stress for more than half of U.S. retailers (57 percent) as well as store managers in Germany (44 percent), Australia (41 percent), France (39 percent), Canada (38 percent), and the U.K. (33 percent).

Nearly half of retailers worldwide (48 percent) find it challenging to deal with administrative issues resulting from associates working additional shifts and/or incurring overtime to cover unplanned absence, and 42 percent feel a big impact on labour costs.

Despite best efforts, retailers struggle to schedule for low- and peak-demand.
The perpetual issue and corrosive effects of absenteeism have led the vast majority of retail organisations (88 percent) to proactively over-schedule additional labour each day to cover for anticipated absences. This is most common in France (95 percent), the U.S. (89 percent), and Germany (88 percent).

Retailers regularly find themselves with either too few or too many associates during periods of low- and peak-demand, and some admit to being understaffed (31 percent) or overstaffed (22 percent) at least half the time.

More than half of retailers worldwide (56 percent) say it is a challenge to build work schedules that meet customer, business, and employee demands. This is the most common workforce management challenge for retail mangers across the U.S. (69 percent), Canada (64 percent), France (60 percent), Australia (58 percent), and Germany (55 percent).

Despite the fact that most retailers worldwide say work schedules are posted between one and two weeks in advance, retail managers admit that 86 percent of schedules are amended to some degree after they are published.

Retail managers are hungry for technology to solve staffing issues.

Only 55 percent of retailers worldwide have technology in place to manage unplanned absences, with both the U.K. (41 percent) and Canada (38 percent) reporting below-average use. In comparison, 76 percent of global respondents have an automated solution to manage time and attendance, and 73 percent use technology to manage planned absences, such as time-off requests.

Three out of five (59 percent) retailers say scheduling technology has a positive impact on productivity within their teams, with store managers in Canada the most bullish about technology at 76 percent.

Retail managers are confident that effective absence management technology can help reduce absenteeism: globally, retailers anticipate an 18 percent decrease in unapproved absence rates after implementing a new absence and shift-swapping solution, with France expecting the best return on investment, anticipating a 23 percent decrease.

Quantifying the benefits of absence management, retailers additionally expect a new absence and shift-swapping solution to reduce labour costs by nearly 3 percent. In the U.S., one in 10 retail managers estimate the cost reduction could be as high as 5 percent.

Joyce Maroney, executive director, The Workforce Institute at Kronos: “Business performance has always been tightly aligned with how well you are able to stick to a plan. The corrosive effects of absenteeism can swiftly knock retailers’ plans off course and erode performance potential. How you minimise and manage absence is critical to staying on target, and it starts with understanding employee preferences, considering their availability, and making it easy for them to modify their schedule or swap a shift as needed.

After all, employees who work schedules built around their preferred hours and availability and who are empowered by self-service workforce management technology will be happier, have fewer instances of absence, be more productive, and have a longer tenure.”

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