Lessons on Employee Engagement

May 21, 2019

All sorts of organizations struggle to keep their employees motivated and loyal – but that’s especially true in retail, where turnover often exceeds 60%, compared to just 15% across the rest of the U.S. economy.

According to Human Resources Today, this uniquely high turnover rate translates into more than 230 million days of lost productivity every year, and $19 billion in costs associated with recruiting, hiring, and training. Beyond the obvious financial downside, turnover disrupts the quality of service for customers and can impact workplace morale.

Although other industries don’t face the same built-in obstacles that retailers do, many companies have found creative ways to improve employee engagement and reduce turnover – which retailers can look to for inspiration.

Alternatives to cold, hard cash

There’s not an employee out there who doesn’t appreciate a bonus or unexpected salary bump in recognition of a job well done–but it’s not always an option in an industry where margins can be low and strong sales are no sure thing. That’s why apparel-maker Outdoor Research found a creative way to reward its employees: Knowing their staff – from manufacturing to sales – was comprised of passionate outdoorspeople, the company allows them to purchase gear at the cost, often a savings of hundreds of dollars.  

If discounts aren’t an option, public recognition of a job well done can still be incredibly meaningful. In fact, a 2017 poll by Tjinsite, found that more than 35% of employees consider lack of recognition the biggest hindrance to their productivity.

Employees also appreciate it when they feel their values are respected and supported by their employer. In addition to pricey on-site amenities like fitness centers, convenience stores, health centers, pharmacies, banks, and dining, one of Toyota North America’s best-received benefits is actually their Toyota4Good program, a volunteer and giving program through which Toyota matches their employees’ monetary donations to their favorite charities, and makes a financial donation to the same charities for every hour their employees volunteer.

An easier and less expensive option? For a retail staff, simply taking an order for team coffees on Friday morning can brighten up a team’s day.

Professional development opportunities

Research consistently shows that today’s employees value opportunities to learn advanced professional skills above many other perks and benefits; if you’re providing opportunities to learn—whether through in-house trainings or by setting aside a budget for outside classes—your employees are more likely to remain with your organization and stay engaged in their work.

Pharmacy giant Walgreens is famous for providing opportunities for professional education to its associates. Their in-house “Walgreens University” offers online and in-person classes on subjects such as leadership, merchandising, beauty and more. Since the program’s launch, Walgreens has seen employee engagement rise 15%.

Communicating a sense of purpose

According to a 2018 study, 58% of U.S. office workers wish their work were more meaningful. 52%, in fact, said they would sacrifice a $1,000 raise in pay for it.

With that in mind, communicating your company’s purpose to your employees is crucial. A Deloitte survey showed that 73% of employees who say they work at a “purpose-driven” company are engaged, compared to just 23% of those who don’t. That’s why the most-successful companies make sure their workers understand the deeper meaning behind their daily work.

For example, Southwest Airlines’ communicates its purpose as, “To connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.” As a result of this—and other aspects of the airline’s employee-centric culture—Southwest has enjoyed a high level of employee engagement for the duration of its 43-year history.

Inviting feedback and open communication

Inviting employee feedback is yet another way to improve company-wide engagement; really listening to and respecting the input of employees makes them feel that they’re making a difference and benefiting the company beyond their everyday role.

Screwfix, a U.K.-based hardware company, provides their employees with a bi-weekly opportunity to provide feedback on anything and everything to do with the company, which helps foster healthy company culture.

Studies have shown that when work feels more meaningful and employees feel that they’re being heard, they’re more likely to stay, less likely to take sick days, and do a better job driving profits.

A simple “thank you”

Feeling appreciated at work can make or break a professional experience. A recent study of registered nurses in Oregon found that hearing ‘thank you’s’ considerably improved these nurses’ satisfaction with their work. According to the study’s lead author, Alicia Starkey, Ph.D., “When we receive gratitude or people acknowledge us for a job well done, we might feel more satisfied with the work we do day-to-day.” Studies show that happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees.

Leadership at Badger Maps–a field sales management app company that offers planning, routing and scheduling features–makes gratitude and acknowledgement part of their weekly schedule by setting aside time at the end of every Friday to “give props”. Any employee can “give props” to anyone else on the team, which fosters a culture of appreciation, respect and teamwork.

Whether it takes the form of an in-person conversation, an all-company announcement, or a handwritten note, a simple “thank you” from a manager can go a long way when it comes to helping an employee feel respected and valued.

The importance of employee engagement

An engaged workforce results in more productive employees, more satisfied customers, reduced turnover, and much more. That’s partly why Retail Zipline cares so deeply about employee engagement. By communicating clearly with the field, retailers can connect to-do’s with a deeper brand story that tells associates in stores why their work matters and how they contribute to the success of the company as a whole.

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