Jen worked at a large Southern retailer for over three years: longer than anyone except the department manager. Jen dealt with staff shortages, long hours, extra workdays and added job responsibilities. She’d kept a smile on her face even when customers vented about stockouts or long checkout lines.
But when she needed to answer a customer’s question and wasn’t able to reach anyone on her walkie-talkie, her frustration boiled over. She was feeling disconnected from her organization and unable to do her job successfully, so Jen quit at the end of her shift.
Jen’s not alone. Retailers have always had turnover, but the industry experienced especially high rates in 2020 and 2021, with turnover in the U.S. topping 69% and 64%, respectively. While providing a high-quality customer experience has always been a challenge for retailers, doing it has arguably become even more difficult in 2022.
It’s hard to keep talent but even harder (and often more expensive) to replace them. But merely retaining workers won’t solve all your problems. You need new ways to increase your team’s productivity, starting with improving engagement.
An engaged workforce is happier and stays with their employer longer, yet engagement continues to drop across all sectors. Only 36% of workers were engaged in their workplace in 2020, and according to Gallup’s 2022 survey, that’s fallen to just 32%.
To get the most out of their front-line teams, to keep them engaged and to ensure they’re willing to stay around, retailers should take proactive measures. Here’s how they can do just that.
In March 2022, there were more than 11.5 million job openings in the U.S., yet just 6 million people were unemployed. Retaining your existing employees requires making them feel like a part of the team and infusing a sense of purpose. And that requires consistent communication.
Here are a few tips to improve team communications:
• Get to the point. When meetings, discussions or emails drag on, employees can tune out. You are better off having shorter and more frequent meetings than fewer but longer discussions.
• Make your message stick by ensuring its alignment with your overall mission. For example, when changing procedures, make sure employees know the reason behind the change and how it will improve customer service.
• Encourage discussion to make sure employees understand the information you’re passing on. If they don’t understand it, they aren’t likely to implement it.
• Set aside time for individual conversations. Even daily huddles might not reach all your employees at once. And not everyone is comfortable speaking up in front of groups.
You can also leverage technology to deliver the right message at the right time.
For example, a retail CEO might want to deliver a message to every associate to make them feel part of the larger organization—yet not everyone on every shift and every store can be in a daily huddle simultaneously. Many retail employees usually don’t have a corporate email address, but you can record audio messages that employees can play back when they start their shift.
Providing Opportunities For Advancement
Besides low pay, one of the top reasons people quit their jobs in 2021 was that they didn’t see any opportunities for advancement, according to Pew Research. In retail, employees can move up quickly, but too often, that path isn’t clear.
You can improve retention by developing growth plans for employees and providing them with the opportunity to learn the skills they need to move to the next level. One company that does this well is Dollar General. Employees get individual growth and development plans to help associates maximize their career aspirations. These plans, along with training, have generated internal placements into new roles that exceed 60%.
This may require upskilling or reskilling workers consistently to give them the tools they need to grow. Many workers highly prioritize learning and development. According to a TalentLMS study (via Forbes), more than three-quarters of employees said they would likely stay with their company longer if they provided continuous training.
Recognizing Achievement And Rewarding Excellence
More than half of the 1,000 employees surveyed by Quantum Workplace and BambooHR in their study “Recognition In The Workplace” said they want more recognition from their immediate managers or supervisors, but 22.1% say they rarely or never get it. This simple, cost-free act can play a significant role in retaining and empowering employees.
In my experience, many of today’s employees eschew annual performance reviews and opt instead for regular feedback on performance. When positive feedback is authentic, deliberate and timely, it’s meaningful.
I believe retailers need to do more than provide feedback to employees; they need to actively solicit feedback from employees. Hearing concerns and ensuring associates feel like you’re actively listening can help ease frustrations—especially when you can act on them.
Associates often express a feeling of being disconnected from their employers. Asking for feedback on processes, procedures and policies can uncover hidden frustrations that might drive people to quit. Often, these are issues that can be resolved; however, it should be simple and quick for employees to provide feedback. And, when the solution comes from the employee instead of the manager, it can be a powerful motivator that fosters loyalty.
Improving Retention In Retail
While pay will likely always play a role in retail turnover, there are other ways to keep top performers around. You should communicate consistently, provide the tools (and information) they need to do the job and recognize achievement. Solicit and act on feedback and provide employees the necessary learning opportunities to advance.
Consider incorporating some of these tips, and you might keep workers like Jen engaged and on the job.