A retail news op-ed article caught my attention recently. It talked about the plight of the retail worker, claiming that associates are treated like “yo-yos” with their schedules.
Retailers have operated with an on-demand approach forever. It’s doubtful that will change anytime soon, especially as technology allows us to understand shopping behavior better than ever before. But the pain that retail store associates feel with regard to their schedules IS REAL. And that pain could lead to lower store performance.
While it’s true that data and technology help make your retail chain more efficient with scheduling, it’s positive impacts on performance can be negated in other ways. Making today’s in-store shopping experience great takes a deep knowledge of customers that only data and technology can provide. But a critical step to making that experience awesome is to have happy employees.
So how do you create an atmosphere that keeps them satisfied and improves store performance while keeping headcount costs low?
Here are a few suggestions we’ve uncovered after talking with store associates all over the U.S.
- Ask them about customer feedback. Associates will be more engaged if you ask for input. If the size of your retail organization is small enough, take the time to discuss their observations about shopper behavior one-to-one or in a small group. In settings where that approach is impossible, send out an email with a short survey or ask them to comment in an organic way.
- Provide incentives for a job well done. Everyone likes to be acknowledged...whether they admit it or not. Showing appreciation with bonuses, gifts, and/or public recognition is a good way to motivate employees. Awards won’t drive every associate to the top of his game, but your team performance should improve.
- Fuel the competitive fire. Some of your associates will have a little competitive blood running through them. Bring out their best by holding contests for certain achievements. Offer monthly prizes for the most store card accounts opened or highest sales. Hosting contests fires up your best associates, which can trickle down to others on your teams.
- Throw them a party. Nothing says team building like hosting a pizza party or ice cream social. Make a store-wide meeting special by offering tasty refreshments and fun activities that engage your staff. When employees feel like they can have fun at the workplace, they’re more likely to perform better.
- Recognize store achievements. Store associates feel a sense of satisfaction when they know their store rocks. Being in an “A team” environment tends to raise employee satisfaction, so share the top store’s success by offering something special to the entire staff. And share the achievement with other stores in a positive way that encourages others to raise their game.
- Don’t blame management unfairly. Store managers can be a convenient “fall guy” for corporate issues, such as poor marketing results. Avoid making a scapegoat out of managers that have little to do with company setbacks. Associates can feel a sense of loyalty to managers, so when a store leader takes the blame for uncontrollable outcomes, it can demoralize the entire team.
- Train, train, train your workforce the right way. Think about it: when associates are put out on the floor without adequate and consistent training, some will flounder. This can have a negative effect on the entire store. Your training program should be easy to follow and easy to transfer onto the floor. In fact, providing continuous access to training through their mobile devices enables associates to stay current on best practices, policies, and guidelines. This helps keep performance levels high and puts workers at ease.
- Reduce scheduling abuse. As the story I mentioned points out, retail workers are frustrated about inconsistent scheduling and on-call demands. While it’s understandable to schedule “as needed”, requiring staff to work significant hours one week then few or no hours the next makes their lives challenging...which can lead to attrition. Smoothing out the inconsistencies will go a long way in satisfying your retail workers.
- Be flexible with scheduling. Taking point #8 one step further: retail employees often need flexibility in their work life. By understanding and acknowledging this need, you’ll find your associates will be more satisfied with their work demands.