Respect, relationships and stability: Engaging workers takes more than money

3 takeaways on how retail employees feel about their jobs

Even as the labor market has cooled, NRF’s November Monthly Economic Review found that employment growth remains strong and employers will likely continue to face a worker shortage over the next few months. For the retail industry alone, there were 800,000 job openings in August.

Given this competitive environment, understanding the mindset of both current and potential employees is crucial. Retailers, after all, aren’t just competing with each other for the best talent; they’re also up against other industries.

Retail companies have been taking — and will continue to take — creative steps to address the shortage of workers. The Body Shop has implemented an open hiring policy, through which candidates are asked three simple questions and hired on a first-come, first-served basis. Lush stores in the United States are instituting a living wage policy, based on the cost of living in each region.

To better identify and understand retail workers’ perceptions of their jobs, NRF recently partnered with SKDK to conduct a study of 1,830 current, former and potential retail workers. SKDK also conducted a series of focus groups with targeted groups of workers. Benefits, consistency, flexibility, team dynamics, personal development, empowerment and engaging work were all on the table.

Takeaway 1: Pay is important, but it’s not all that matters

Retailers have already taken many strides to accommodate the lack of employees — including offering higher starting wages and shorter work shifts and inviting older workers and minors to apply. According to the study, however, employers must also maintain a laser focus on positive employee relationships, increased listening and understanding of needs and concerns, and constant reassessment of what will keep workers happy.

“The most important thing to attract and retain workers is the environment in which they work,” says Ed Egee, NRF vice president, government relations and workforce development. “The study showed that how much you pay people doesn’t really move the needle in terms of how interested and engaged they are. They want to enjoy their workplace, to feel respected and to believe that they have opportunities for advancement.”

Relationships with coworkers and supervisors were particularly important drivers of workers’ satisfaction.

Takeaway 2: Retail can be a job that works for employees — not just a job they work

Flexible scheduling and paid leave join compensation and health insurance among the top reasons to work for a retailer, and the greatest positives in retail are “helping people” (85%) and teammate friendships (83%).

Retail employees also enjoy consistent paychecks and schedules, providing stability in income and greater work/life balance — especially when compared with the gig economy. At the same time, daily work in retail can vary greatly, meaning there’s never a dull moment, and the ability to work nontraditional hours, swap shifts, take time off and enjoy camaraderie can be definite selling points.

Takeaway 3: Retail can be the start of a journey leading anywhere

Retail provides employees with extensive opportunities for personal development and growth of people skills. Soft skills such as teamwork, problem solving, communication and adaptability are all highly transferrable into other industries and occupations. Likewise, retail also offers significant opportunities for on-the-job training and advancement. In the SKDK study, fully 79% of employees saw growth opportunities as a benefit.

In today’s environment, Egee says, retail stands out among industries simply by its size and sheer number of positions open. The current and previous administrations’ efforts to “all but shut down” legal immigration only make matters worse, he says. “Right now, competition for workers is fierce,” Egee says. “This has been and will continue to be a challenge for NRF members.”

At the same time, retailers have a unique ability to provide the opportunity for employees to engage in work that is variable, interpersonal, social and satisfying while receiving stable wages, extensive benefits and valuable experience.

To learn more about what sets retail jobs, apart visit NRF’s Careers and Leadership resources page.

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