Guest blog by Katie Nelson, Delivery Office Supervisor at Big Sandy Superstore, and one of YouEarnedIt’s 10 Most Recognized Employees in the World

If changing employee compensation, training and retention strategies at major retailers like Amazon and Walmart are any indication, the time to be thinking about how we attract and keep talent in the retail sector is right now.

Having worked in retail for many years, I know how brutal the turnover rate can be. Some people describe our industry as a revolving door for talent, and a lot of the time they aren’t wrong. More than that, I think we all know just how negatively low employee satisfaction can impact important aspects of retail business, like customer service and quality control.

But, while all of this is true, I also know that it doesn’t have to be that way, thanks in large part to my role as a team member at Big Sandy Superstore. Retail in and of itself is not a negative environment. In fact, the challenges managers in our industry face when it comes to employee engagement and retention are major opportunities to build incredible teams that drive massive results.

Really, it all comes down to four pillars: empathy, connection, investment, and purpose.

If you want to create and maintain strong, enthusiastic teams, consider these critical factors–they make all the difference in the world between retail teams that go through the motions, and retail teams that are dynamic, committed advocates for your brand’s success.


Show That You Care (Empathy)

In retail, we know that a little bit of appreciation can go a long way when it comes to retaining our best customers. That’s probably where the old adage about the customer always being right comes from.

What’s less well-known, but starting to catch on, is that appreciation is also critical to retaining the best employees—and finding them in the first place.

Happy employees, it turns out, are usually the highest performers. But how do employers get there?

Some companies think that fun perks are the solution–but I disagree. While bonuses, perks, and company-sponsored fun are appreciated in the immediate sense, these things aren’t likely to keep employees invested in the company mission or its day-to-day operations in the long term.

The truth is that employees are at their happiest—and do their best work—when they know that the people they work for actually care about them. Managers who want to attract, train and retain the best employees should know that in order to do that, they have to build a real investment in their employees into their company culture in words, in actions, and in policy.

Keep Your Doors Open (Connection)

A common complaint among retail workers is that they don’t get any feedback until they’re in trouble or on the verge of being dismissed.

An approach like this isn’t only damaging to employee morale—it’s also a terrible waste of opportunity.

When communication between employees and management is infrequent, businesses miss out on critical chances to praise great behavior (the kind you want to see replicated throughout the team) and to offer corrective feedback for behaviors that might otherwise become problematic.

Rather than waiting an entire year—or until it comes time for dismissal—to talk, management should consider giving regular, timely and specific praise and other feedback to employees.

Big Sandy Superstore does this by implementing an open-door policy that keeps employees, management and the ownership in direct contact. Managers are free to compliment the work of their teams and to offer guidance on getting past pain points; employees feel like they are in the know about their performance; a two-way street of trust is formed, creating a comfortable environment where teams can face challenges and seek opportunities–together.

ebook: 10 Most Recognized Employees of 2016

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Plot a Course for the Future (Investment)

“Where are we going, and where do I fit into this?”

Whether they say it out loud or not, most of your team members wonder about this at some point in their careers. Providing answers to these questions, consequently, isn’t just good for giving employees peace of mind—it’s also good for business in general, because it creates a cultural mindset of growth.

At Big Sandy Superstore, we have a saying: “We want to be bigger and better.” When we say that, we’re not just talking about making more sales; we’re also talking about seeking opportunities for employee growth. How can we better serve our customers—and how are we training our staff to move up?

Managers should set clear benchmarks and offer guidance to employees—giving them meaningful, challenging work that increases their skills and prepares them to advance in lock-step with a company that they can trust to grow more prosperous in the years to come.

Make Your Mission Meaningful—and Clear (Purpose)

Are your team members excited to come into work, and excited about the roles they play—or are they merely going through the motions in order to collect a paycheck?

While you’re probably not a mind-reader, I’d be willing to bet that you can tell the difference between an engaged employee and one who is only there because they have to be. Employee engagement, after all, has an effect on every part of your business, and you can bet that if a team member isn’t happy or passionate about their work, your customers will know it.

Engaged employees feel like their work is important to the success of the business, to the satisfaction of the customer, to their personal development and, sometimes, even to the quality of the communities they occupy. Disengaged employees are indifferent about these things, either because they’re unhappy or because they’re simply unaware of their worth.

To combat this indifference, companies should make their purposes clear–and contextualize the everyday work of employees in the greater scheme of life at the organization and within the community.

One way that Big Sandy Superstore does this is by investing considerably in charitable initiatives that benefit the cities we operate in as well as our own employees. When disaster strikes, as it did during the 2016 floods in West Virginia, our company was ready to use some of the profits it raised–thanks in large part to our hard-working, committed team members–to assist with relief efforts.

Some people might think this just PR, but I know it’s more than that; it’s demonstrating a committed partnership with the communities in which our team members work and live, and knowing that their work can make their communities safer and more prosperous goes a long way toward keeping employees invested in the job.

The Takeaway

The four pillars of employee engagement and retention I discussed here aren’t necessarily hard to achieve–but the key to embedding them in company culture and deriving success from them is being both intentional and consistent.

It’s one thing to think about investing in your employees, but another thing entirely to articulate those thoughts and act on them. When it comes to retailers who care about their employees and bring the best out of them versus those who don’t, the difference is always clear.

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