Turnover in the retail industry is notoriously higher than any other, and it’s no surprise why. The hours are long, employees often spend entire shifts on their feet, and pay is typically minimum wage with no benefits. A staggering 41 million people voluntarily quit their jobs in 2018, up 8% from 2017. By the end of 2020, that number is estimated to jump to 47 million. How do you find new ways to motivate retail employees?
These things considered, the odds are stacked against any retail business to retain employees. But beyond these obvious factors, employee turnover in the retail industry tends to hinge on one key component: a lack of motivation.
The retail industry has a tendency to treat employees like physical assets rather than people. However, most managers understand that retail employees aren’t mindless drones who show up to work. Any employee, no matter what industry, needs motivation to stay interested and invested in their job. Many retail employees come to work every day feeling aimless, destined to repeat the same monotonous tasks and wait for their shifts to end. There must be a better way, right? Let’s explore 10 ways to motivate retail employees, but first, let’s define what exactly employee motivation is.
What is employee motivation?
Employee motivation is an intrinsic drive to put in effort at work. Contemporary Management defines it as “the psychological forces that determine the direction of a person’s behavior in an organisation, a person’s level of effort and a person’s level of persistence.” Essentially, motivation is the willingness to expel energy to achieve a goal, and when applied to the workplace, that definition makes perfect sense. How willing are your employees to go the extra mile? How committed are they to your mission and values?
Motivated employees get what they really want at work — recognition and satisfaction — which, in turn, gives your company what it wants: productivity, quality, and service.
But what exactly motivates employees? Surprisingly, a study based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, asserts that money is actually ranks lowest on the hierarchy of needs for an employee. This study determined that money tends to have a short-lived motivating effect on employees, while praise and recognition are considered stronger motivators. While it might seem unexpected, the primary driver behind employee motivation is rewards and recognition.
Now that we have a better understanding of what employee motivation is, we can see just how essential it is to improving your retail workplace. While rewards and recognition is the main component of motivating retail employees, there are also plenty of creative ways to keep them engaged on the job. Let’s explore the top 10!
1. Give Employees Responsibility
Every employee wants to feel valued and like their contributions make a difference to the business. The monotony of a retail job can quickly make employees disengage, and one way to combat this is to reward employees with more responsibility. Delegating tasks not only lessens your workflow, but it helps disrupt the routine of an employee’s day.
Do you have a part of your job you could easily offload to a trusted employee? Consider letting your employees count down registers at the end of the night, close your store on their own, or run the floor during a busy day. The added responsibility will keep them invested in your company, and the challenge will nurture their continued interest in your business.
By offering more responsibility to your employees, you demonstrate that you’re invested in their professional growth and see them as more than just an “asset” for the business.
2. Build a Culture of Recognition
Recognizing retail employees for their effort is the true key to motivating them. Employees — especially those who work in retail — thrive on recognition for a job well-done. Recognition can come in many forms: verbal, peer-to-peer, manager-to-peer, and more. Whichever type of recognition you choose, it’s important that retail employees are recognized publicly for their efforts.
One easy way to do this is to implement a formal company-wide recognition program. This kind of program includes a streamlined platform that all employees use to send recognition to each other for covering shifts, helping out, taking a short lunch, staying late — anything you can think of. You can even customize your reasons for recognizing on these platforms to be aligned with your company core values. All recognition appears in a social feed where employees can like and comment on recognitions or add their own.
Another way to motivate retail employees and encourage recognition is to gather employees at the end of their shifts and verbally recognize them for their efforts that day. Ask them to recognize a peer as well, and make sure you encourage frequent recognition for your entire team.
3. Encourage Feedback
Your employees are the conduit between your business and your customers. They hear feedback from your most precious resource — your customers — every day, so encourage them to pass this feedback on to management. Your employees also spend the majority of their time on the floor, so they have a clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t.
Schedule monthly meetings (at a minimum) with your employees to deliver feedback about how your workflows could improve, how you could better provide service to your customers, and what customers think could be improved upon.
During these meetings, it’s critical that you demonstrate active listening skills. Make sure you take in everything your employees have to say — don’t interrupt, don’t lose focus queuing up your next thought, and don’t disengage from the conversation if you hear something you don’t want to hear.
Take notes during your conversations to ensure you take actionable steps to addressing this feedback in your store, and pass the feedback along to upper management as well. You never know if other stores are having these same issues! You can even use a formal survey tool where employees can quickly submit anonymous feedback on their phones from anywhere to streamline the feedback process.
4. Reward Retail Employees for Great Work
Retail employees are highly motivated by rewards. Whether you reward them with gift cards to their favorite restaurants, a bonus at the end of the month, or even a selection of customized rewards to choose from, your employees will appreciate knowing they have something to work toward.
The most effective rewards are personalized to each employee. But how do you personalize your rewards when you have hundreds of employees working for you?
One easy way to motivate retail employees en masse while still maintaining personalization is by implementing a rewards platform that enables them to choose their own rewards. Rewards platforms automate the process of securing discounts, gift cards, and special items from your favorite local and national spots so you can quickly request what you want and provide it to your workforce. Employees send points to each other on the platform for a job well done, and they can redeem these points for thousands of amazing rewards. You can even customize your rewards to be specific to your company, like an extra day off, company-branded swag, a long lunch, and more.
Using a rewards platform provides the personalization you need to motivate your retail workers without the time and effort it would take to customize rewards manually.
5. Encourage Career Development
Many retail employees don’t consider that their jobs in retail offer more than cash in their pockets. In fact, a retail job can be a career launching point, and it’s important that your employees understand this from day one. Retail can be laborious and difficult, but you have the power to reduce that stress through career development. If employees see a path forward, they are more motivated to work hard and achieve goals.
Providing a clear path forward is an easy way to motivate retail employees. During a new employee’s training, clearly outline what a career trajectory looks like at your company. It could be as simple as explaining the management hierarchy to them and detailing how a manager works their way into that position, or it could be more complicated, like offering senior positions for employees who achieve certain sales goals.
Millennials and Gen Z workers believe they are entitled to a promotion every two years regardless of performance, and these demographics currently dominate the retail industry. They are highly motivated by professional growth, so to cater to these groups, it’s essential that you provide career development.
6. Spruce Up Your Break Room
Employees spend so much of their time on the floor helping customers, and the only reprieve they have is taking a quick rest in the break room. If your break room is dreary, employees are more likely to disengage and spend less time at work. After all, you don’t want employees who constantly watch the clock, leave early, and demonstrate that they would rather be anywhere else than your store.
Let’s say you have an employee who works retail for a reputable fast fashion chain. Her name is Megan, and she is a part-time college student and full-time mom. Megan is about to go on her lunch break. Megan works her retail job to pay rent and daycare bills. How do you motivate Megan, even though she’s already exhausted?
Megan hates spending time in the break room because it feels more like a prison. The walls are gray cement, it’s always cold, and it has a tiny table and a single microwave to heat up food. The chairs are fold-out and creak when she sits in them. It seems like everything about the break room is designed to be uncomfortable.
The break room sends the message to Megan that she’s not welcome to spend time here. This directly contradicts everything about what a break room should be. Consider sprucing up your break room to make it feel more hospitable. It should be a place where people feel at ease relaxing, so be sure to outfit your break room with comfortable chairs, a table where multiple employees can sit and eat, and a small selection of snacks. Lighten up the walls with warm tones and bring plants into the space to make it more inviting. You can even play quiet music to give your break room a nice atmosphere.
7. Make Work Schedules Available ASAP
One of the most frequently noted complaints among retail employees is not knowing their schedule ahead of time. Many retail workers have families, and planning around their children’s schedules when working retail can cause stress. Other retail employees are in high school and college with budding social lives and family commitments. Planning schedules at least two weeks in advance is a huge stress reliever to retail employees. By doing this, you demonstrate that you care about your employees and treat them more like people rather than just an expendable resource.
An even better way to motivate retail employees: keep their schedules as consistent as possible every week. If employees have a general understanding of when they work, they can plan their schedule accordingly. This is a mutually beneficial strategy because your company will notice a steep drop in no-call-no-show employees, shift covers, and calling in sick to work.
8. Have Regular 1:1 Meetings
Employees, especially those in the service industry, need regular communication with their managers to feel valued. 1:1s have several key purposes:
- To build a trusting relationship between employees and management
- For both parties to stay informed and aligned
- To provide mutual feedback
- To address topics prone to getting lost in the shuffle (like career development or constructive feedback)
Have scheduled 1:1 meetings with every member of your team to check in on their workload, evaluate their schedule, and get any feedback on processes. This is an especially good time to provide feedback to employees as well. Go over their performance and offer words of encouragement if you’re meeting with a high performer.
9. Set Attainable Goals
Retail is a fast-paced and competitive environment, so it’s no surprise that setting attainable goals is a huge motivating factor for employees. First, identify what your company’s overall goals are. Is your objective this month to raise your overall sales to a certain amount? Are you looking to increase your units per transaction (UPT)? Are you striving for a perfectly organized store at the end of each close?
An easy way to motivate retail employees and work toward your company’s goals is to create competitions encouraging employees to strive for those goals. Make sure these goals are attainable, otherwise they’ll just exhaust employees who already struggle with burnout.
For example, if your company wants to increase your UPT, hold a daily competition for those working the registers. Encourage cashiers to upsell extra items at the register, and whoever has the highest UPT at the end of the night wins a $10 gift card to your store.
If your goal is to completely recover the store before close, break your employees up into teams. Whichever team recovers more of the store by close will win gift cards to the store, a free meal, a long lunch, or whatever you want to reward. These small competitions are an amazing way to get your numbers up, motivate employees, and keep them engaged throughout a long workday.
10. Surprise Them
Sometimes the best way to motivate retail employees is to break out of the monotony of a day with a nice surprise for your employees. For example, if you know Saturdays are always a busy day for your store, surprise your team with some baked goods! You can make them yourself at home, or if you’re not much of a baker, you can stop by the store on the way to your shift and pick up a box of donuts or a tray of cookies. A small gesture to alleviate the stress of a busy workday goes a long way toward motivating employees, and they’ll appreciate that you’re thinking of them.
There are plenty of ways to surprise employees: if your team had a particularly great day, consider letting them go home early. They’ll appreciate the small reward and the extra time off their feet. If your team exceeded their monthly sales goals, you can even surprise them by taking them out to dinner after a shift to congratulate their efforts!
It’s In Your Hands
We hope these tips have helped spark some ideas on ways to motivate your retail employees. With the right combination of recognition, career development, and effort from management to make employees feel valued, you have the opportunity to motivate your employees and get them invested in your company for the long-term.
Erin Nelson is a Digital Marketing Manager at Fond with over six years of B2B SaaS marketing experience. Erin has authored dozens of articles on employee rewards and recognition and frequently researches new trends in R&R. In their spare time, you can find them playing music, reading about socioeconomic and gender-based politics, and listening to true crime podcasts.