Employee Engagement Employee Retention Employee Recognition

9 ways to improve employee motivation in the retail sector

As one of the industries most affected by ‘The Great Resignation’, retail has faced a number of challenges over the past few years when it comes to recruitment and retention. Last year saw an incredible 94% of retailers struggle to fill vacant positions, even as they boosted pay and benefits.

A lack of employee engagement has been a major factor in creating this situation. The pandemic left many retail staff feeling overworked, burned out, and underappreciated.

Fortunately, there are ways to fix this. With a few simple strategies, you can radically improve the employee experience at your company, and create a more supportive, inspiring environment for your team. 

In doing so, you can make your company more appealing to jobseekers, boost retention, and encourage long-term career growth among your staff.

Here are 9 of the best ways you can improve employee motivation in the retail sector.

1. Start on the right foot with retail employee onboarding

To create a truly engaging retail employee experience, it’s best to start at the beginning. 

Given the high turnover rates in the industry and the seasonal nature of some positions, most retailers take on new staff on a fairly regular basis. 

With that in mind, it’s crucial to get off to the best possible start in order to maintain high levels of employee motivation in retail stores. 

This means making sure that your onboarding process helps to set new hires up for success, and more importantly, gets them excited about working for you. 

One key element of onboarding staff is building connections with other employees early on. For instance, a lot of retailers use ‘buddy systems’ to pair new hires with more experienced staff members who can be a main point of contact for any questions or problems they have in their first weeks. This is a great way to ensure they feel supported as they learn their role, and to help them integrate with the rest of the team.

Going further, you should examine your entire onboarding process and see where there are opportunities to make it more engaging. 

A lot of retail onboarding can be quite rudimentary, usually involving some mandatory training in things like manual handling and health and safety, before having the employee ‘learn by doing’ on the job with other staff.

You can take cues from other industries to improve this experience. Use your staff’s onboarding period as an opportunity for team-building and social activities that they might not get much time for once they get started in their roles. 

Take time to introduce managers from other departments and explain how each department functions and the role it plays. 

And outline any paths for growth and development in your company, even if you are onboarding temporary or part-time staff –  you never know who might have the potential to be a long-term employee.

Onboarding can also be a chance for you to explain a little about your company’s history, its values, and its overall mission and vision for the future. Speaking of which…

2. Give retail employees purpose

According to employees themselves, purpose is one of the biggest drivers of employee motivation in the retail sector. A survey conducted by Nudge revealed that 58% of retail workers reported that a sense of purpose at work made them feel more engaged and motivated.

There are a few ways that retailers can make employees more purpose-driven, but one of the most effective is to improve transparency across the company. 

Share how your business is tracking in terms of its larger mission and goals, and demonstrate how your employees are helping you to achieve them. When employees have a sense of how what they do affects the bigger picture, they’ll find their work a lot more meaningful.

On a more personal level, you should also set smaller goals for individuals and teams, and celebrate and recognize people for reaching them. These goals could be targets for sales, productivity, customer service or anything else, depending on the department.

Another great way to connect employees more to your purpose is to lean on your core values. Your core values serve as touchpoints to guide the actions of your employees in their everyday work. Making sure employees are aware of them, highlighting their importance and recognizing those who reflect them in their work can help create a shared sense of purpose throughout your team.

3. Celebrate big wins with your retail employees

On that subject, it’s important not only to share your larger goals with your team, but also to take some time to celebrate when you achieve them. 

Because the industry is so fast-paced, important milestones like hitting quarterly sales goals are often quickly forgotten by retail staff and management. After all, the stores all open again the next day, and the work continues.

But these moments can be huge opportunities to improve retail employee engagement. After a big win, it can be incredibly beneficial to make space to highlight these achievements to your team, and let them enjoy the feeling of their hard work paying off. 

Even if it just involves calling a quick team meeting and thanking everyone for their contribution, your team will feel more valued, and more motivated to keep going.

Want to recognize your retail staff for big wins? Download our free guide to  employee recognition for retailers

4. Create space for learning and development

Another big part of giving your employees purpose is making them feel like they have room to grow, develop new skills, and advance their careers.

A lack of opportunities for growth can be one of the biggest causes of a lack of employee motivation in the retail sector. Because the industry often attracts part-time workers and seasonal staff, it can be seen as something of a short-term gig, rather than a long-term career option.

In today’s changing job market, convincing staff to see the long-term potential of a career in retail could be crucial in creating a sustainable talent pool in the sector over the next decade, and creating clear career pathways and continuous development opportunities will be vital to that.

This might involve professional development courses and training, offering opportunities to ‘talent swap’ with employees in different departments and functions, or just simply making sure that employees are continuously being given the chance to take on new responsibilities.

These opportunities shouldn’t just apply to long-term employees, either. Whether someone is part-time or full-time, seasonal or permanent, a senior or a student, they should all be given chances to learn new skills and grow as professionals during their time at your company.

Creating this kind of environment will make your staff more motivated and energized, and will also help you improve your employer brand and attract more talent.

5. Streamline communication to connect retail staff

One of the biggest reasons employee motivation in the retail sector can be low boils down to one problem: communication.

Frontline employees in retail work in a fast-paced, customer-facing environment that often leaves little room for the careful planning, coordination and internal communication flows that employees in other settings rely on. 

Employees at large retailers also rarely have regular contact points with head office staff to align on strategies for campaigns and promotions, or to give feedback on things they think could be done better. Roughly 80% of employees in the retail sector don’t even have company emails.

Fortunately, there are new tools being developed that can help you streamline communications across a retail organization. For instance, Nudge is a communications app designed specifically for the deskless workforce that can be used for everything from internal announcements, to task management for campaigns, to gathering feedback.

At a more basic level, you can also give your managers pointers to help improve communication on the ground. Having a box for feedback or suggestions from employees in each of your locations could be a start, or even just holding meetings where staff are encouraged to voice their ideas and concerns and discuss them as a team.

You could also suggest that they set aside time for regular 1:1 meetings with each of their employees – which is a common practice in office and remote jobs, but less so in the retail sector – to check in with them, address any issues or concerns they have, and even discuss future growth opportunities. It’s an easy way to provide your team with a dedicated platform to discuss what’s important to them, and could have a huge impact on retail employee engagement.

6. Act on retail employee feedback

On that subject, if you’re making space for feedback from your employees, it’s important that this feedback leads somewhere.

If your people are submitting suggestions, answering surveys, and being open and candid with managers, only to find that a lot of their concerns and ideas aren’t being addressed, they’ll quickly stop doing it.

Make space in team meetings and within internal communications to highlight some of the feedback you’ve received, and explain what action you’re taking as a result.

Ensuring your people know that they have a voice, and that their voice can lead to real change in the company, can be vital to retail employee engagement.

Of course, it won’t always be possible to act on some of the feedback you receive from employees. For instance, you might see a lot of employees calling for different or more flexible scheduling options that your stores can’t facilitate.

But even in these cases, you should still surface the feedback. It will give you a chance to explain the company’s position, and help employees understand why it isn’t possible to address this issue right now. 

Your employees will feel heard, even if they aren’t getting what they want. 

7. Make time for team-building

A lot of retail employees really love the sense of team spirit they get from their workplace, but it can also be very difficult to maintain over time.

One reason for this is that retail employees often just won’t work with people consistently enough to develop bonds naturally. The high turnover and seasonal nature of the retail sector means teams change a lot, while the fact that staff often work irregular shifts can add to the problem, too. 

It’s also possible that employees will feel a strong sense of connection to their own team, but very little to those in other locations across the company, or even to those working in different departments and functions in their own store.

Bearing this in mind, it can be helpful to take a more deliberate approach to team-building in order to improve retail employee engagement. This might involve running social events, sports or games, or even purpose-designed team-building activities that help employees develop collaboration and problem-solving skills together in a group setting.

Of course, this can be easier said than done for many retailers. The fast-paced, customer-facing nature of the business means that it isn’t always possible for employees to participate en masse in a team activity unless it’s done outside of work hours. Where possible, though, you should try to make time and space for your teams to develop deeper connections, even if it’s in smaller groups.

8. Focus on wellness to drive employee motivation in retail

When considering team-building for retail employee engagement, it’s worth taking extra care to focus on activities around wellness.

Running wellness challenges, casual team sports events, and other activities that give your employees a chance to get outside and active have the double benefit of helping your team build connections while also doing something positive for their physical wellbeing. 

In the current climate, it’s also vital to focus on your employee’s mental wellness, and give your managers tools to support their teams in this area. 

A recent UK-based report revealed 28% of retail managers didn’t feel they were being given enough resources to support staff with mental health issues, despite 91% reporting noticing these issues in their teams.

Giving additional supports for mental wellness might involve implementing flexible health plans that cover counseling and other therapies, or providing extra training for managers to help them learn skills to support employees who are struggling.

The pandemic was tough on retail staff, with many forced to work long hours in a high-risk, demanding environment, and it’s no surprise that a lot of people in the workforce have found it difficult to cope. Showing that you understand this and are doing everything you can to help can go a long way to increasing morale and satisfaction in your team, and motivating your employees. 

9. Recognize your retail employees

While all of these other initiatives can help, employee recognition can be one of the simplest and most powerful employee engagement tools for retailers. 

For a start, a recognition program can be one of the best ways to improve morale in your team. This industry can be very demanding, and making sure that people feel valued and rewarded for their efforts can be vital to maintaining employee motivation in the retail sector.

Recognition can also be used strategically to foster connection and collaboration among your staff. By rewarding employees for tackling problems together, you’ll encourage them to do it more. This can even extend to collaborations across departments, locations, and functions.

If you’re using a peer-to-peer program, allowing employees to recognize each other for their contributions will also help to build and strengthen these relationships. 

Your managers can use recognition to encourage development and growth, too. They can set goals with their employees to learn new skills or take on new responsibilities, and reward them when they succeed. This can even to help to encourage more long-term growth, as employees will start to see clearer career pathways in the industry as they develop.

All of this can lead to massive improvements in productivity, retention, and general job satisfaction across your company.

Using recognition for employee motivation in retail 

Wondering how to engage retail employees in a more meaningful way? Check out our free eBook, Employee Recognition for Retail: The Complete Guide

This comprehensive resource takes a deep dive into how recognition can be utilized to supercharge employee motivation in the retail sector. We’ll cover:

  • The challenges facing retailers in the current landscape
  • How to create great retail culture
  • How employee recognition can help 
  • How to build effective retail recognition programs

The guide also includes a fillable worksheet to help you develop a customized action plan to implement a recognition program tailored to your company’s needs. 

Click below to download your copy today:

Get the guide


***Editor's note: This blog was originally published in July 2022, but has been updated to reflect current workplace and culture trends.

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Joe Facciolo

Written by Joe Facciolo

Joe is the Co-Founder of Guusto. He leads the Sales Team, and loves helping HR leaders build workplace culture by sharing his experiences and knowledge in the industry.

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