How to shut the shop on absenteeism

Unplanned absence is one of retail’s biggest workforce management challenges, but better employee engagement can help reduce this rostering headache.

For retail managers, an employee cancelling their shift or simply not showing up is one of the worst ways to start the day.

Managing unplanned absences is one of retail’s biggest workforce management challenges, according to more than half of retailers surveyed in Kronos Workforce Institute’s 2018 Global Retail Absence Survey.

On average, around 13% of retail hours are wasted, due to cancelled shifts or overscheduling to compensate for the possibility of employees not being available at the last minute. Around 7% of hours are scheduled but not worked, while 6% are worked, but not needed. To date, the common response to absenteeism in the industry has been to overschedule staff, with 87% of global organisations taking this approach.

Absenteeism not only impacts the bottom line through reduced customer service, lost productivity and overspend on staffing, but employee sentiment is affected by a workplace where workers don’t have sufficient support, especially during peak times when absenteeism is at its highest. This includes managers who are tasked with filling the gaps with just one to three hours’ notice, on average.

Data analysis by Kronos shows a direct correlation between poor employee engagement and absenteeism. This doesn’t mean you need more events on the company social calendar or ‘joke of the day’ in the break room, although it probably wouldn’t hurt. There are simple steps and tools you can adopt to build rapport and respect about rosters.

Remove the guess work: Start accurate labour planning with a demand forecast.

56% of respondents to the survey said building work schedules that accurately align with the demands of customers, the business, and employees is one of the most difficult, complex, or times consuming issues.

The majority of respondents admitted to doing a bad job of scheduling staff, regularly finding themselves with either too few or too many staff during peaks and troughs of demand.

Systems such as Kronos Workforce Dimensions use historical data, known events and clever algorithms to simplify the labour scheduling process, aided by new machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques to enhance accuracy.

Ask for preferences: Schedule staff based on the hours they have identified as most suitable to them. If their shifts fit with their schedule, they are less likely to need to change them or cancel because the shift is too hard to manage around other commitments.

Give plenty of notice: Publish schedules as far in advance as possible. This gives employees time to plan, and managers time to rearrange shifts if needed.

Trust the data: Use labour analytics to mitigate absence. These tools provide insight into the causes of absence, which can be used to inform rostering.

Be fair: Pay staff accurately and on time for work performed. If staff feel valued and well treated, they will be more inclined to do the right thing for the business.

Implement self-service: Empower staff to take greater control of their working lives with self service capabilities for time off requests, shift swaps, accrual balance visibility, requests to cover shifts.

Artificial Intelligence now plays a role in helping employees manage their shifts and relieving the stress and administrative burden on managers. Technology helps employees find eligible and available co-workers to swap shifts by reviewing the employee’s history, identifying who they usually swap with and which days other employees are available to work.

While the first instinct may be to take a punitive approach to absenteeism by imposing stricter rules and processes, it is unlikely to reduce the incidence and will probably just create bad feeling between managers and staff. By actively seeking to engage with employees on their needs when it comes to rostering and involving them in managing the administration of their shifts, you can significantly reduce the problem and improve the working environment for all involved.

Steven is the Head of Retail and Hospitality at Kronos, Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia. Steven is a highly experienced workforce management professional, with over 25 years’ spent advising businesses on labour efficiency and utilisation best practices. His expertise have been developed working with suppliers of workforce planning products and services, as well as implementing them, and managing the teams responsible for maintaining staffing levels. Visit



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