Staffing Management

Retail workforce management practices that make employees stay longer

By Andie Burjek

Aug. 3, 2020

Retail workforce management can be difficult for managers in a high turnover industry. Keeping hourly employees interested and engaged in the job can be an ongoing struggle.

But retaining hourly retail employees a little longer can make all the difference in the success of a retailer. And certain workforce management practices can go a long way in making these meaningful improvements.

Also read: Give managers the time they need to sharpen up their all-around skills

Realize the customer isn’t always right, and act on that

Customer-facing jobs, especially retail, are difficult for employees when they’re expected to act like the customer is always right, said Robert Teachout, legal editor at HR compliance resource XpertHR. What can make a difference here is how managers act. One of the cardinal rules of management is, “Always have your employee’s back,” he added.

The key is to forget everything you ever heard about “The customer is always right,” he said. Customers can be stressed, wrong, rude or, at worst, inappropriate and abusive, and employees appreciate when their manager stands up for them.

“Managers need to step up —  and in some cases are legally  required to step up —  if someone is being abusive to an employee. Like if the employee is a minority or LGBTQ and they’re being harassed, that is harassment and discrimination. it is illegal and the employer has a liability if they don’t stop it,” Teachout said.

“The customer is entitled to the best service you can provide within the policies and practices of your establishment. They’re not entitled to yell at your clerks, not entitled to abuse a coupon program [and] not entitled to throw stuff on the floor and make a scene,” he said. “When that happens, take the employee out [of the situation] and you step in.”

This is also where higher level management needs to have their back, he said. Managers feel safer standing up for the people they supervise when their own bosses are going to support their decision and protect them. 

Make even the smallest change in turnover rates

The retail industry sees a 60.5 percent turnover rate, but it doesn’t need to stay that high. Even a small improvement in turnover will produce large dividends for a store and much larger competitive benefits compared to other retailers, Teachout said. 

The reality in retail is that these hourly positions are many people’s first jobs, and the expectation shouldn’t be that these employees will stay around forever. But that doesn’t mean managers can mistreat them and act like they don’t want these workers to stay longer, Teachout said. 

With seasonal positions, this can be especially helpful. “If you know you have 10 spots to fill every year, would you rather have to hire 10 different people or know that you’ve got two or three people that like working with you, want to come back and have already been trained? That right there is a huge advantage,” Teachout said.

Hourly retail jobs often have low pay, little opportunity for advancement and few if any benefits, and stocking shelves isn’t a personally fulfilling job for many people, he said. But if a manager knows this and considers how they can make the workplace a better place for employees, they may see better engagement and therefore better retention

Also read: Knock out the practice of buddy punching for good

Fostering employee engagement in retail workforce management 

Employees are more engaged when they can take ownership of their work, Teachout said. Managers can help here by allowing employees to do tasks that use their strengths. For example, an organized employee may excel in tasks like restocking shelves, and an extroverted employee may excel working at the customer service desk. 

Similarly, hourly workers are more engaged when they feel supported by their coworkers and feel a sense of teamwork. From the moment a manager onboards a new hire, they should introduce and emphasize the concept that “you’re part of a team,” Teachout said. They can explain tardiness or absenteeism policies not in a way that focuses on business impact but in a way that focuses on the impact it has on coworkers. 

He also said that managers can help employee engagement by building individual connections with employees. This doesn’t mean they have to form a friendship, but they should know each employee’s goals, priorities and strengths. This could be a part of a formal, scheduled review, but even more important is the casual conversations, Teachout said. Questions could be as simple as “How’s school going?” 

Create consistent schedules 

Inconsistent schedules are one of the major complaints of retail workers, and more stability in this area helps people balance the rest of their life and responsibilities while still getting enough hours, Teachout said. One of the main reasons recent predictive scheduling laws were passed was to reduce the impact of last-minute scheduling changes, he added. 

Managers should make sure they’re being fair while scheduling their retail employees, he said. Make sure everyone has the same opportunities to work the best shifts and the same obligations to work the less desirable shifts or do the less desirable tasks. This ultimately comes down to respect, Teachout said. Employees will feel more respected if they’re treated the same as their coworkers. 

Also read: Make managers more successful with the tools to retain and engage their employees

While retail workforce management practices like this may not stop or slow all turnover, they can help create meaningful business outcomes. 

“Even keeping someone working another two or three months longer than they would have typically, and at that point they’re already trained, that’s all gravy,” Teachout said. “Even making a small improvement in your turnover rate will provide a bottom line benefit.”

Andie Burjek is an associate editor at Workforce.com.

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