Why HX Is Critical to Weathering Widespread Labor Shortages

The labor shortage currently straining employers across the United States is reaching unprecedented levels. From big-box retailers and chain restaurants to local grocers and convenience stores, businesses of all sizes are struggling to maintain the staff levels needed to operate efficiently and provide exceptional customer experiences. In September and October alone, a record 8.7 million people quit their jobs voluntarily. A wide majority of them were from service-based sectors like retail, hospitality, food service, logistics, travel and tourism, all of which primarily operate in person.

Widespread understaffing compounded into supply chain disruptions and inflation during the critical holiday shopping season that drives profit margins. Without a full staff of engaged employees to leverage, capitalizing on holiday demand while weathering the volatility of a global pandemic is exceedingly difficult. In turn, the importance of offering quality human experiences (HX) that help attract new hires and retain current employees is paramount to success.

Fostering quality HX requires consistent alignment of employee experiences (EX) and customer experiences (CX). That alignment is best achieved through advanced visual insights solutions that automate the collection, reporting, and analysis of key improvement data from employees and customers alike. By leveraging the technology to transform employee and customer feedback into actionable, data-driven insights, employers can make meaningful progress toward creating HX that empowers them to overcome their most pressing labor challenges.

Embracing a New Wave of Workers

The reason workers are quitting at historic rates is clear: COVID-19 has caused a widespread reassessment of quality of life and purpose of work. Now more than ever, Americans desire employers who value them as people, not assets. They expect employers to treat them well, pay them fairly, preserve work-life balance, and offer flexibility to shape their schedules around their personal circumstances.

For example, imagine a hotel restaurant manager named Julie, a single mother of three< who before the pandemic worked a traditional five-day, 9-to-5 schedule to make ends meet. But after her children's school pivoted to a hybrid learning structure, she needed to be home during daytime hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays to watch her kids. Without flexible scheduling options that enable her to earn a livable wage, Julie would have no choice but to quit her job. However, if the hotel instead allowed her to work three 12-hour shifts per-week, she could still keep her job while fulfilling her parenting responsibilities. It is these types of real-life circumstances that render flexible scheduling a necessity for employers to retain staff in today's environment.

There's also a generational component to the situation. As of 2021, Gen Z and Millennials comprise nearly 50 percent of the U.S. workforce, which will only continue to grow in years to come. They are considered the primary drivers of the Great Resignation largely because their expectations are entirely different from generations before them. From work-life balance and higher wages to diversity and inclusion, values dictate their choice of employment. So, to attract more younger employees to help offset labor shortages, businesses need to ensure their HX directly aligns with them.

Leveraging Analytics for Staff Productivity and Retention

Businesses that understand the expectations of the people who drive their success, as well as which actions are required to meet those expectations, are best positioned to create pathways to staff retention. This is where visual insights solutions can provide a competitive edge.

Take big-box retailers, for example. Data-driven EX feedback loops generated from the solution's automated digital surveys uncover opportunities for cross-utilization that streamlines staff workflows and improves employee efficiency. With adjusted roles and responsibilities optimized for understaffed stores, the strain placed on each individual employee is quickly reduced, which helps boost morale, engagement, performance and retention.

From a customer standpoint, CX data could help the same retailer determine which areas of the store require the presence of associates the most. Then, managers can ensure employees working the floor are in the right places at the right times to tend to their needs. In transforming the insights to corrective actions, the retailer is fostering an HX environment that empowers its employees and satisfies its customers.

Building Strong Staff Relationships

Staff relationships directly correlate with employee productivity and retention. After all, employees who truly enjoy working alongside their peers are more likely to be satisfied with their EX, and in turn less likely to seek employment elsewhere. There's data to back it up: global studies by Harvard Business Review on pandemic-era employees found that most workers place a higher value on relationships with co-workers than other common job attributes.

A workplace culture that embodies a family-like dynamic is worth its weight in gold, especially amid labor shortages that require a team effort to weather daily understaffing challenges. In addition, it also has a direct effect on CX by generating higher levels of employee engagement and collective buy-in to the overall mission of providing exceptional service. Every customer interaction is treated as an opportunity to execute the mission and meet a staff-wide standard of excellence. Rather than merely doing the bare minimum, employees instead desire to go above and beyond for customers, benefitting both their co-workers and the organization as a whole.

With this in mind, employers can gain a deeper understanding of the current state of their staff relationships from EX data generated by visual insights technology. If the feedback indicates a strong culture within their staff, managers can pinpoint its foundation and ensure it remains intact. On the other hand, if the feedback identifies specific variables that are damaging staff relationships, managers can take steps to alleviate the issues and restore a family-oriented culture.

Employers should view the current state of the labor market as an opportunity to invest in innovative digitalization and automated solutions that elevate their workplace environments to new heights. With a proactive, HX-focused approach to staff management, employers can position themselves to overcome the myriad of operational challenges posed by pandemic-driven labor shortages.

Mark Ratekin is a principal customer experience consultant at Forsta.