The so-called “Great Resignation” may be over for salaried workers, but for frontline employees there is no end in sight to the labor shortage. The retail sector has experienced one of the most acute impacts of this shortage, with a 57.3% employee turnover rate and comparatively slower wage gains creating a talent drought that poses a potentially existential threat to the industry.
We’re also on the doorstep of retail’s busiest season. With the holidays quickly approaching, retailers will need to increase their staff to meet the surge in demand — but as the data shows, they’re already struggling to keep a full staff on a normal day. As this labor dilemma persists, many retailers are hiring more employees under the age of 18 to fill the gaps in their workforce. In fact, data from Legion Technologies finds that 37% of managers say they’re hiring more minors due to the shortage.
For these young workers, many of whom are taking on their first job, a retail position can be exciting and rewarding. Retail jobs offer the unique opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life, learn valuable life skills and, of course, take home a paycheck. Young employees also can benefit retailers as they lend a fresh perspective to the workplace, and they can help more seasoned staff better connect with younger customers. However, hiring minors carries unique risks that employers must be equipped to address.
Mitigating Compliance Risk is the Top Priority
Compliance is always a vital consideration, but it becomes even more sensitive when young employees are involved. Child labor laws vary from state to state, not to mention they’ve been the subject of numerous legislative upheavals in the past year. Leaders should be ready to adopt new best practices quickly to protect this vulnerable class of employees.
However, ensuring compliance is especially tricky for retailers operating in multiple markets, as labor stipulations will vary from location to location and any changes must be made in time with laws taking effect. Fortunately, new technologies — bolstered by rapid advancements in artificial intelligence — can make this process easier. Retailers should consider using AI-powered scheduling software that automatically applies local labor laws, which will eliminate potential shift violations.
In fact, any process that can be intelligently automated should be, as it can greatly reduce the risk of error. Automating compliance management across the organization also fortifies security, makes compliance processes more efficient and even helps companies optimize labor costs by eliminating redundancies. That said, with a sensitive matter such as compliance, there must be a human check on the automated processes — but automation makes those checks far less time-consuming.
Retail leaders also should ensure that store managers and employees are up to date on all forms of compliance training, such as workplace safety and anti-harassment, to ensure that the safety of not just minors, but all employees, is a priority in the workplace.
Enabling Schedule Flexibility
When hiring minors, managers can expect parents to have a more hands-on role in their children’s jobs. For example, young employees may be dependent on their parents for transportation to and from work if they do not have a driver’s license or, in some cases, are even too young to drive. Parents may also come by as customers from time to time to check on how their children are doing.
However, even the most savvy and involved parents may not have a truly accurate picture of what an employer expects when it comes to their child’s schedule requirements and role responsibilities. While a younger employee may work fewer hours on the whole than an employee over the age of 18, they still are still required to show up for their shifts and work the entire time. Research shows this is an ongoing problem: 58% of managers believe matching employee preferences and availability with the needs of the business is most difficult for employees aged 18-24, and the figures could potentially be higher for employees under 18.
Fortunately, a flexible approach to scheduling can alleviate work-life conflicts. Automated scheduling further enables flexibility, allowing young employees to work around their school, family and personal schedules wherever possible, while still taking into account the needs of the business. This benefit extends to all employees and can be useful in attracting new talent from gig jobs — where workers have full control over their schedules — and other industries.
Automated scheduling also frees up more time for managers to focus on training and coaching new employees. This way, young employees can receive better professional development on the job and will likely be more satisfied with their experience overall.
Communication is the Bedrock of a Positive Employee Experience
Clear, accessible communication is critical to ensuring the success of all employees, but especially those who may be in a workplace environment for the first time.
Meet young employees where they are by providing a modern digital experience that removes barriers to communication. Offering a mobile app where they can communicate with their managers and coworkers is a great way to keep employees connected and allow them greater flexibility. That said, if their parents are taking their phones away at night — as can be the case with teenagers — managers should stick to sending critical workplace communications during working hours.
But good communication isn’t only about technology. It’s also about culture. Minors in the workforce should feel safe and supported, and that starts with instilling a culture of openness and honesty among employees. Train managers to foster a positive environment and remain cool under pressure, and young employees will feel empowered to take risks, learn new things and contribute to the store experience.
While hiring more workers under 18 may be the result of a labor shortage, it’s also a unique opportunity for retailers to have an impact on the communities they serve. Developing a reputation as a good place for young people to get their first job can potentially transform a retailer’s brand and drive future success.
Michael Spataro is the Chief Customer Officer at Legion, an innovator in workforce management. His expertise lies with workforce management strategic planning across multiple business sectors with an emphasis on retail. With his detailed understanding of workforce management and the changing dynamics of the workforce, he is considered a prolific thought leader in the space. Prior to joining Legion, Spataro was VP of Professional Services at Axsium Group, and he previously held leadership positions at Deloitte and Kronos (UKG).