Company CultureCurrent FeaturesEmployee Experience

Rewarding Hourly Workers

HR leaders can support hourly workers by finding opportunities for flexibility, automating routine tasks, and investing in employee rewards.

By Tiffany Chelsvig

Late last year, analysts at Forrester cast a shadow over the HR world with their chilly prediction for an impending “employee experience winter,” where companies will pull back on benefits and perks in service of a healthier bottom line. As the year came to a close, it certainly seemed these predictions would come to pass: more layoffs hit, companies shaved perks, and holiday bonuses were off the table 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. If companies continue to strip benefits, employees will feel like they’re being undervalued and, in many cases, this will push them to leave. This is especially true for the hourly workforce, for which there is an ongoing labor shortage–and therefore, an abundance of job opportunities. In fact, research shows that more than 62% of hourly employees plan to leave their jobs in the next year. If HR leaders don’t keep out the so-called “EX winter”, they’ll be confronted with an exodus of labor that could cause even more financial strain for companies dependent on hourly workers.   

Fortunately, there are plenty of cost-effective, practical, high-ROI ways to enhance the employee experience without bruising a company’s bottom line. 

Uncover Existing Opportunities for Flexibility 

Flexibility is the heart of the modern employee experience. It’s why hybrid work has emerged as the “new normal” in the corporate world. It’s also why labor organizations like the UAW, which largely represents hourly workers, are advocating for a four-day workweek and better prospects for gig workers. People want to integrate work with their personal lives, rather than sacrifice the latter for the former. 

And while not every business is operationally capable of offering a shortened workweek or hybrid environment, there are still plenty of ways to give hourly employees the flexibility they desire. The key is to look for current processes that can be made more elastic. There is room for more flexibility in workforce management, but also in overall company culture. 

HR leaders should consider the following tactics.  

  • Automate scheduling. Take the guesswork out of building schedules by using a workforce management system that provides the intelligent automation of scheduling. AI-native solutions use machine learning algorithms to align employees’ availability and skills with the needs of the business, increasing the chances employees will get their desired schedule while optimizing labor. This creates a better experience for everyone involved, making it a powerful return on investment.  
  • Improve demand forecasting. Employees won’t enjoy working an overstaffed shift where they feel like they don’t need to be there, and they certainly won’t enjoy working an understaffed shift where customer demands can snowball into the weight of the world. By improving the quality of demand forecasts, employers can ensure shifts are correctly staffed at all times, reducing the potential for burnout.  
  • Broaden the definition of flexibility. Flexibility is more than just who works when. There is pay flexibility, which gives workers early access to their earned hourly wages, allowing them to more easily cover everyday expenses and enjoy improved financial well-being. There’s also location flexibility, which lets employees work on different company sites in the same region. Some hourly jobs even have tasks that can be completed and clocked at home, though this depends largely on compliance.  

Improving flexibility is a twofold process: First, leaders examine what they already have, and see how they can offer greater flexibility without a financial impact. Then, where investment is necessary, look for high-ROI solutions like AI-powered WFM. Such solutions are so effective in transforming the employee experience because any initial investment is almost immediately recovered through the consequent boost to employees’ productivity and engagement.  

Make Rewards Matter 

Employee rewards have historically been a place where companies cut corners, as a shocking 81% of executives don’t consider employee recognition a strategic priority in their businesses. This is a troubling trend, especially when research shows that 52% of hourly employees desire greater recognition and rewards when looking for a new job.  

Rewarding employees appropriately and authentically for the work they do delivers extraordinary returns on skill development and engagement. They’ll be more motivated to perform well at work if they have something beyond their baseline paycheck to look forward to—and that motivation translates into productivity. 

Many customer-facing businesses offer commissions for hourly employees who clear major sales, but for companies that don’t have this incentive baked into their pay structure, the path to an effective, affordable rewards program may be less clear.  

Rewards should accurately reflect employees’ unique contributions. Therefore, HR leaders should consider tech platforms that have rewards modules built in, allowing employees to receive rewards and also give kudos to colleagues. These features not only provide additional capture of performance data but also enhance the employee experience. And regular recognition can have a favorable impact on retention.  

Gamifying rewards can also make the experience more enjoyable. Creating healthy challenges around performance and goals may boost employees’ sense of accomplishment. Awards oriented around overall team performance, as opposed to individual performance, can also foster morale and camaraderie in the workplace by uniting employees under a common goal—one with real, tangible rewards for them.  

Automate Routine Tasks 

In an hourly workplace, the employee experience is heavily impacted by managers’ ability to accommodate employee requests. But when those requests must undergo lengthy administrative tedium to get approved, it can be frustrating for all parties involved.  Fortunately, technologies that deliver intelligent automation are becoming more accessible, so managers can spend less time approving requests, such as shift swaps and time off requests, while responding to more of them, thereby accommodating more employees’ needs.  

Without automated solutions, managers can spend up to eight hours a week—a full day’s work—on manual scheduling processes. To save time, let AI do the heavy lifting when it comes to scheduling, then give managers control over checks and balances, letting them review and edit schedules if necessary. Companies will not only enable greater flexibility but will also give managers more time to focus on the more meaningful tasks at their jobs. Instead of pouring hours of energy and focus into a spreadsheet, they can train new employees, liaise with customers, and work on growing their skills. The result is an infinitely more fulfilling job experience.  

The advent of generative AI is also enhancing the employee experience, promising remarkable productivity gains by slashing the time spent on certain tasks and removing barriers to technology adoption. Generative AI will have the greatest impact on hourly workers in the form of virtual assistants. With simple voice commands, employees will get access to the information they need and can automatically execute actions based on that information. This kickstart into action will make them more confident in their roles, revolutionizing their productivity. 

Enhancing the employee experience must remain a top priority, and it doesn’t have to be an exorbitant expense. By making current processes more efficient and investing in high ROI technology that improves both productivity and culture, companies can create more flexible, agile work environments for their hourly employees and managers alike. This way, they can stave off the dreaded “employee experience winter” and reap the benefits of an engaged and satisfied workforce.  

Tiffany Chelsvig is senior vice president of people operations at Legion Technologies. 

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