The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for the convenience industry, but the difficulties have been compounded by legislation that, in some cases, pays prospective workers more money to stay home than they would receive from working.
In fact, convenience store operators I’ve spoken with confirm that enhanced federal unemployment benefits are contributing to the labor shortages they’re experiencing. Those benefits — $300 a week on top of regular state payments — are set to expire after Labor Day.
As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, with millions of Americans still out of work and job openings at a record high, now lawmakers are dealing with an unexpected problem: how to coax people back into the labor force. Lawmakers from both parties are considering incentives such as providing federal funding to pay for hiring bonuses for workers and expanded tax credits for employers.
These are all well and good, but they are short-term solutions for what is emerging as a long-term problem. To deal with the crippling labor crunch, retailers have to examine and embrace new strategies and new technologies that position them as an employer of choice and reduce their dependence on people. I know that sounds counterintuitive for convenience stores because we are a people business, but there is no denying the impact self-checkout has had at big box chains, supermarkets and home improvement stores.
Walmart, for example, has one or two employees manning a dozen self-checkout lanes. Amazon Fresh stores utilize fewer employees than that. Customers are now conditioned to check out on their own. What’s worse, during the pandemic, people have become used to ordering online and having items delivered by a third party, further eroding the value of face-to-face transactions. This really is distressing, but it’s also a reality that must be acknowledged.
While I’m confident there will always be customers that enjoy the interaction with employees at their local c-store, the difficulting of finding great team members to represent your brand shows no signs of abating. This is a growing concern because not only are convenience retailers competing with other c-stores for workers, they are battling all of retail and manufacturing for the same workers.
One group of workers that is highly sought after is the millennial generation.
On the face of a changing workplace, millennials are forecast to be the dominant demographic in 2025, with 87 million people. That’s a 14% increase compared to today.
However, companies that are best positioned to attract these workers understand the kind of workplace millennials seek.
Workplace behaviors of millennials differ significantly from Baby Boomers. Some millennial characteristics are: work and life are integrated; egalitarian work culture; expect personal training and mentoring daily; must multitask and feel creative; must feel they are making a difference.
Retailers should strategize how to tell their company story and how to make it appealing to this generation. Millennial-aged workers are less loyal, so c-stores must communicate to them that this is a place they belong.
When it comes to why employees — millennials and otherwise — leave their jobs, study after study shows the main reason good workers jump ship is a bad manager. This is hardly some statistic you should just gloss over. In fact, human resources consultant Mel Kleiman has told me for the past two decades that if convenience store chains can either invest in a higher pay structure or create a more welcoming environment, you have to focus on the workplace culture. That’s what keeps people. If an employee is motivated only by money, they will always be a threat to walk out the door for the next higher-paying job. Understanding this is more important than ever.
As you evaluate your HR strategy, don’t simply focus on how many openings you have and fill shifts with any warm body. Start looking at solutions for this long-term challenge so that you have the people in place to grow your overall business. Tomorrow will be too late. This approach needs to start today.