Improving Retail Retention

In a down economy, employees have fewer job opportunities, but retailers would be remiss to overlook company morale simply because employees have fewer options.

By John Lofstock, Editor.

We live in a 24/7 stressful society, filled with uncertainty in the job market, the economy, competition, etc. A large percentage of employees admit to being unhappy with and psychologically disengaged from their jobs.

Recent research shows that among the least happy and least engaged employees, the annual per-person cost of lost productivity due to sick days is more than $28,000, versus only $840 among the happiest and most engaged employees.

Furthermore, job stress alone is estimated to cost U.S. industry at least $300 billion a year in absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover and direct medical, legal and insurance fees, according to Dr. Jack Singer, a sports psychologist who also specializes in training retail CEOs and HR professionals, in addition to world-class athletes.

For example, Singer said, consider the case of Matt, a retail manager for 16 years. Although his employees seem satisfied with their compensation, surveys conducted with them consistently show that their job satisfaction and morale are low and their stress levels are high.
Matt has been well trained, but seems at a loss regarding helping his employees to feel more engaged or happy with their jobs. Because he feels helpless to change the job situation for his employees, Matt, himself, is stressed at work and is unhappy in his supervisor role.

Can Matt regain his passion for his profession?  “He sure can,” Singer said.

Below are five tactics for enhancing employee morale and job performance.

• Provide employees with empowering goal setting strategies. People are 11 times more likely to reach a goal when they write it down, as opposed to just thinking about the goal.

“Have regular meetings with your work team where, in addition to encouraging them to discuss their areas of discontentment, join with them in writing down short- and long-term goals that are specific and action-oriented,” Singer said.

For example, over a period of one month hold weekly meetings to design and implement a new plan for developing a psychologically healthy workplace. Have each employee bring one new idea to each meeting.

“Next, ask your people to visualize themselves feeling wonderful once they have accomplished that goal,” Singer said. “But also ask them to write down ways they can sabotage themselves. Encourage them to be honest with themselves about the kinds of self-talk or self-defeating behaviors they have unfortunately engaged in before, which contribute to not accomplishing their goals.”

• Provide employees with a sense of control over their jobs. Psychological studies of jobs are filled with examples of how important it is to give employees a genuine say in how to conduct their jobs Not only does the perception that management truly cares about their feelings have a powerful impact on morale and degree of job engagement, but giving workers some control over their own work-hour schedule (such as flex time) and how to approach their work tasks, dramatically reduces job burnout, absenteeism and turnover.

“Have frequent meetings with your employees directed at genuinely listening to their issues and allow them to suggest resolutions,” Singer said “Encourage workers to determine their own specific strengths and put them to use on their jobs. When this is done, employees are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and three times more likely to report an excellent quality of life at their workplace.”

• Provide growth and development programs for employees.  Most employees desire the opportunity to gain new skills and knowledge, so they don’t feel stagnant in their jobs.

Information provided by outside experts, which will help them on their jobs and in their lives can serve these needs.

“Scheduling lunchtime seminars and workshops on such topics as stress mastery, anger mastery, enhanced wellness, communications skills, as well as cross-training them with other job skills enhances organizational effectiveness and improves work quality,” Singer said. “Providing free college credit courses in your company headquarters is a wonderful, often overlooked, benefit you can offer employees.”

• Provide planned and spontaneous recognition events for employees. “It’s a no-brainer for companies to provide world-class service for their customers, but they often forget that their most important assets—their employees—need the same,” Singer said. “By acknowledging their efforts—not just their productivity—you can increase employee satisfaction, morale and self-esteem.

• Offer a warm, accepting and fun workplace. Help employees look forward to Monday mornings, by providing an atmosphere of fun, teamwork and camaraderie.

“Acknowledging employee needs and allowing talent and creativity to flourish will keep employees motivated and happy,” Singer said.

Managing the Employees of Tomorrow

Branding and corporate identity are just a few of the buzzwords folks in the marketing department use to describe the basic building blocks of a comprehensive business development plan.

What these terms have in common is that they’re all about communications. Store operators believe everything they do melds into a cohesive whole that communicates the character of their business.

“While most retailers understand how important branding, identity and image are to winning and keeping customers, many have yet to realize that the same principles also apply to how an organization attracts and keeps quality employees,” said Mel Kleiman, president of Humetrics Inc. in Sugarland, Texas.

Onboarding is a fairly new term that was created to encompass all the various steps and interactions that take place following a job applicant’s first contact with an organization. Onboarding includes the entire recruiting, selection and hiring process as well as orientation, training, and even the first days, weeks or months on the job.

“The key to successfully managing the onboarding period is to recognize that first impressions are lasting and that what happens during this time correlates directly to how long new hires stick around,” Kleiman said. “Onboarding recognizes the fact that all applicants and new hires draw conclusions about your organization, both formally and informally, based on factors as diverse as how efficiently and courteously job applicants are handled to the way the interview is conducted, how the offer is extended, and how relevant orientation is.”

The salient points of onboarding include:
1. First hour. Be on time to greet the new hire enthusiastically. Assign a mentor or friend to be their “go-to” person until mainstreamed. Most importantly, make it clear how and why their job is important to the organization so they can justifiably take pride in their work.
2. First day. At the end of the new hire’s first day, be there to ask how it went. Find out if there were any problems and get the new hire’s first impressions.
3. First week. At the end of the first week, ask the same questions and more.
4. First paycheck. Deliver the first one in person. If the new hire is not working out, this is the perfect time to cut your losses. If the new hire is working out, tell them how pleased you are and ask how they are feeling about their new job. Put younger employees and teens at ease and let them know how you feel about their performance.
5. First anniversary: This is a big deal to most every employee, especially teens. “Be sure to acknowledge it in some way,” Kleiman said. For example, some employers have a combination birthday and employment anniversary cake once a month. A personal note of appreciation they can share with family or a small token of appreciation works well too.

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