Updated: Jan 11
Firstly, leadership need to engage themselves.
We cannot expect a retail employee to suddenly switch on motivation and engagement because the company decided to roll-out the latest initiative or incentive.
Retail employees look upwards to leadership and mirror their behaviours.
As such, leaders have a duty of care for their teams, and I think you'll agree the leaders who have the most engaged teams with the best levels of staff retention are the leaders who make their people feel good.
Leaders who, through their words and behaviours make retail employees feel worthy, they make teams feel like they have an enormous purpose and they take the time to understand how things can be done better - because they really care about the micro and macro details.
Retail is the fifth ranked industry in the world where employees will suffer from stress and burnout. Pretty shocking statistic considering retail private sector is the UK's largest employer with almost 3.5 million employees.
Retail employees have irregular work schedules. Starting their day as early as 4am (hello travel retailing) and finishing the day as late as 10pm.
Retail employees should be available 7 days per week and if a retail employee is working in The Middle East as full-time team member, they will likely work 6 days per week.
Around a third of retail employees are under 25 years old - so if you are in management and are considerably older, you may be perplexed about this generation of workers and misaligned with what they want and what matters to them.
Back to retail teams - can you imagine arriving to a place of work at 8am, unpacking stock, tidying displays, learning current sales trends and bestsellers, serving customers, handling challenges, executing management tasks, focused on KPI's, cleaning fitting rooms, carrying heavy boxes, learning product features and adopting a happy persona all day until your shift ends around 6pm - you've been on your feet all day and in some brands, probably wearing high heel shoes and reapplying lipstick every few hours.
Working in retail is hard work and bears personal expense too - especially in the luxury sector where ones make-up, nails and hair are expected to be well groomed for the high clientele visitor. A far cry from the dress down Friday crew in the office!
Retail employees are widely undervalued and often looked down on from their head office colleagues. I've seen the divide myself and it is ugly - it is time to bridge this gap and get everyone thinking and acting a part of the brand omni experience and not in silos. Silo's create divide, silos rip teams apart and silo teams will never reach their fullest potential.
When we consider our own engagement levels, we uncover the deeper meaning of our work. We all want to feel a part of something meaningful.
We all want to feel a certain amount of security and, importance in our jobs.
The classic 'do your job or else lose your job' will not cut it, and striking fear into retail employees is not the answer. Sure, it might work short-term, but would you want to be known as 'that person' in the company?
Think forward - how do you, as a leader, want to be remembered?
You could be the fierce one who made everyone feel scared to speak up or you could be remembered as the kind one, who encouraged everyone even when times were hard.
Thinking and acting with the end game in mind will serve you well.
How to effectively engage retail employees is the missing link between a good team and a great team. Engagement comes when we feel a brand is aligned to our own values and we are purpose driven.
Not all retail teams are made the same - you can feel that immediately walking into a store or a boutique. I am happy to say, it doesn't need to stay this way and every store can be a hub of happy team experience exceeding superb customer experiences.
Here are 5 ways to get your retail employees more engaged
1. Give them paid time off
No, not holidays. Gift them with an early finish before their day off. Trust me, when regular days off are Tuesday and Friday, going home at noon on Thursday is almost like having a weekend! This gesture is massive and the employee will feel really valued and deeply engaged when they return.
When should we gift this?
Here is the thing - whenever you want! When you witness something exceptional in-store or when you come to learn that someone covered a shift last minute themselves.
Recognising acts of kindness in your team members and then rewarding on the spot is often more effective than a long drawn-out incentive that focuses mainly on KPI's.
Don't make a big deal out of it either - just do the right thing and make it personal.
2. Give them the right training
On-boarding training is a one-time event. What happens beyond that?
How often do retail employees receive up-to-date relevant retail training? If the answer is somewhere between the annual conference and ongoing training from store management, then you're setting yourself up for mediocrity in performance.
We must equip retail staff with the right resources for them to succeed at their jobs.
This means continued support and coaching, scheduled quarterly intensive retreats for management - because when management are trained well and highly engaged, the whole team follows.
Training around self-mastery, training around stress management, training on how to overcome self-doubt in order to become the leader you want to be!
3. Give them power
Retail employees are the closest people to the customer. Yet, the retail team seldom have opportunity to influence the product buy/range plan or suggest marketing activations.
Instead, the corporate team (who likely never visited the store once) decide everything from their comfortable office spaces.
Simply holding weekly calls with key locations to understand locality and other brand initiatives can greatly enhance your positioning and performance in the mall.
Retail staff will start to feel more empowered and involved with key business directions and therefore, more engaged
4. Give them skills for life
The International Retail Academy trains retail employees at the very core of themselves - the mindset. Too many brands offer what I call, surface level-training.
This tends to deal with only top layers of information, such as how to handle a customer complaint or how to hold an employee performance review. What this fails to do is unravel the deeper mindset and programming we have. (Or habits).
This is why following many trainings, the same habits reappear and the engagement dips again - because it's human nature to stay comfortable.
When a brand gives people skills for life, they can then apply these lessons in all parts of their life - work, personal care, family, community. Self awareness is the best gift any business can invest into their people.
5. Give them recognition
Your top performing employees will want to feel important and valued. So if you have these golden talents, recognise them appropriately and they'll want to stay longer.
Recognition can come in all packages, here are some ideas for you:
A hamper of their favourite treats
Restaurant gift card
Employee spotlight recognition in the weekly newsletter
Retailer of the month, £250 bonus
The point is, do something and do it often enough to make retail employees feel good about working at your brand. Feeling good about being a part of something special directly impacts employee engagement and retention.
Remember, you cannot engage everyone the same way. What works for some will not work for others - this is why you need to intentionally discover each persons motivations and personality types so that your efforts land in the right places.
The best leadership doesn't feel like leadership at all - it feels like support.
How to engage retail employees firstly starts with leadership; taking a very honest view of your own methods, your own habits and beliefs before jumping in with solutions.
Let me give you an example.
In the picture above I was at one of my peak physical fitness phases, I had competed 1 day before this shoot and placed first place in my category out of around 250 entries. It took me 20 weeks of strict diet, sleep and exercise to reach this goal. It was relentless.
During this time, I worked my Retail Business Management role out of central London and was in the field 3 or 4 times per week, taking train journeys to Leeds, Cheshire Oaks, Bicester and more. My team started to learn about what I was doing - through their own curiosity.
On visits for example, I would take the leader on duty out to a local coffee house and I would only have a water or black coffee, then at lunch, I would pull out my prepared food (not your typical packed lunch)!
They would ask some polite questions, I would answer.
Over time, some team members would ask about foods or weight training routines, then I started to notice at one location instead of the sea of diet coke cans in the back of house, it was just water bottles.
One of my Managers had decided to run 10k every day off because they too wanted to test their own abilities and get fitter. A few of my colleagues at the office started to bring in healthy homemade lunches, something they'd never done before.
The smallest of things can start an avalanche of behaviours and actions.
Sometimes these things are great! Sometimes these things are dreadful - so watch out!
If you want to engage retail teams I urge you to look at leadership from the inside out because attitude and actions of the masses is a reflection of leadership.
Whilst team engagement is not something you can immediately measure, it does show up in key performance metrics - retention rates, absenteeism, productivity, internal succession, KPI's and overall culture.
Retail team engagement is available to everyone - when leadership endorse it and take action.