The grocery industry provides an indispensable public service that is just as vital to everyday life as running water and electricity. If we didn’t know it before the Coronavirus, it’s a fact well known to us all now.
Grocers face many challenges even under ordinary circumstances, like selling products that spoil within days (an issue most other retailers are lucky to not have to worry about) and doing so at often razor-thin margins. Now, grocers face new strains like panic buying, hoarding, shortened store hours, and most importantly, labor shortages. It begs the question – what can our industry do to help? Could retail be the answer to grocery’s hiring needs during this crisis?
Here is the news we have all recently heard from many different media outlets:
- Grocery stores and other retailers that sell household essentials are aggressively hiring. More specifically, two grocery chains in the Midwest are looking to fill open positions at most of their stores to help meet demand. Grocers have seen heavy store traffic for more than a week.
- Many grocers have 10 or more open positions per store across their entire network.
- Amazon says it needs to hire 100,000 people across the U.S. to keep up with a crush of orders as more people stay at home, shopping online. They are also raising pay by $2/hour through the end of April for hourly employees.
More broadly, we are seeing other effects in retail from the Coronavirus:
- Retailer and restaurant chains are closing their doors until further notice, which has created a domino effect forcing outlet malls and traditional malls to close completely.
- Supply chain disruptions go well beyond getting current merchandise onto grocery shelves and could continue well into the back-to-school and even holiday seasons.
- Retail and restaurant workers are being sent home – sometimes with pay and sometimes without.
With this news, I see an incredible opportunity to redistribute labor between grocery and traditional retail. While retailers and restaurants are closing their locations, grocers are hiring massive amounts of employees just to get through each day. What if there was a way for retailers and restaurants to work directly with grocers to help fill the positions they are hiring for?
Imagine a scenario where a chain of restaurants has 50 people in one location that they are sending home due to being closed for the foreseeable future. This chain might not be able to pay them two weeks of wages. Those workers will have to apply for unemployment, but in some states, the unemployment websites have crashed with the extreme amount of activity, delaying paperwork and preventing workers from receiving a necessary benefit on a timely basis. Here are 50 people who would rather be productive, forced to just wait until they get the all-clear to go back to work. Meanwhile, across the parking lot is a grocer trying desperately to fill 50 positions in all different areas in their store. I could see these two managers collaborating to get these 50 employees onboarded and working while they are waiting to re-open the restaurant.
For years now, the gig economy has been increasing the number of people working several different jobs. Now think of the possibilities of making it a formal process between companies. Onboarding, new hire paperwork, and training could all be handled through a shared employee engagement or communication tool. The employee could get up-to-date schedule details from each of their employers and quickly take on more shifts in periods of peak demand at other locations or brands.
Most employees that work in retail are very hard and productive workers that are used to providing high levels of customer service, and are willing to learn new tasks quickly. I could see the restaurant employees feeling grateful and willing to work even harder knowing they are able to stay employed and productive.
This could be one of the bright spots that come out of this difficult time. There are so many similarities between the two industries that the onboarding process would be much quicker as most workers already have an intimate understanding of customer service, inventory management, stocking, and in the case of restaurant workers, rules around food safety. What a wonderful way for grocers to quickly get someone hired and working immediately to service the needs of customers.
Now I know what you’re thinking; this will not go on forever. The spread of the Coronavirus will slow and in time we will go back to something resembling normalcy. As the world gets back to eating out and shopping again, the employees can then make the shift back to their original positions. Now imagine that this isn’t the end of employee sharing. Going forward, the grocer now has an entirely new base of employees that are engaged and trained that can help flex up during some of their busiest periods – like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Super Bowl.
I think if these industries can partner quickly and begin sharing employees across companies, this will be a win for the employees, customers, businesses, and indeed the country as a whole.