Posted: 09 Nov. 2021 15 min. read

Engaging Frontline Workers in the Retail Sector: Challenges and Imperatives Post-Pandemic

Creating an elevated workforce experience

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By Adrienne Petersen, Kimberly Betts, Maribeth Sivak, and Naina Sabherwal

Designing an elevated workforce experience, centered on human values and enabled by programs and technologies, drives market performance. At Deloitte, we define ‘Workforce Experience’ as the sum of a human’s lived experiences at work and how they feel about their organization and believe there are eight key relationships that influence a worker's experience at an organization. These elements include a worker's relationship with the work they do, the people they work with, the places they work, the technology they use, their connection to the company mission, their sense of belonging, and the growth that delivers value to their career. In this eminence series, we will explore the three elements that are top of mind for the retail sector: the workplace, the workforce, and the work itself.

The pandemic created a variety of profound challenges, not the least of which were the threats to the health and well-being of retail frontline workers in tandem with shifting consumer preferences accelerating demand for home delivery and buying online, pick up in-store (BOPIS).

According to Deloitte’s 2021 Human Capital Trends Special Report, the pandemic strained and tested the worker-employer relationship. Employers were called upon to support workers’ health, livelihoods, and dignity to an unprecedented degree, and their success or failure to do so came under unprecedented scrutiny.

Overview of current challenges

COVID-19 came as a wave disrupting everything we ever felt like ‘normal.’ Roughly 50 retail bankruptcies occurred during a time when others experienced record earnings. Consumer behavior changed overnight as health and safety concerns suddenly became a purchase driver, and we saw technological adoption in a matter of months that would have normally taken years to occur.

According to Deloitte’s 2021 retail industry outlook, grocers, home improvement suppliers, and mass merchants benefited from changes in consumer behavior, as well as their designation as essential services. Others, such as apparel and department stores, have struggled since the pandemic’s onset and are approaching the upcoming year with cost-cutting and making up for lost revenue. Despite these differences, executives are unified in their desire to transform their businesses and rewrite the rules of the retail industry.

Technology and new sources of talent are together unlocking new possibilities for what we refer to as the “Future of Work” (FoW) that requires retailers to reimagine the workplace (the where), the workforce (the who), and work itself (the what). Retailers can no longer delay reimagining and building a sustainable and differentiated frontline worker-employer relationship.



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Bob Kaunert

Bob Kaunert

Principal | Deloitte Consulting LLP

Bob is a business driven HR leader within Deloitte’s HR Transformation practice. He brings more than 25 years of experience in HR, workforce management, HR service delivery, global process design, and shared services implementations. Bob also has skills and experience in various HR technologies such as Workday, Oracle/PeopleSoft, SAP/SuccessFactors, and Workforce Management technologies such as Kronos, Workforce Software, and Infor (Workbrain).