How To Motivate Your Retail Employees in Tough Times


The retail sector can be a challenging one to work in in general, let alone during unprecedented times such as those we’re living in now. The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have been felt in just about every industry, arguably none no more so than in retail. As supermarkets and essential shops have been asked to stay open, and other shops have begun to welcome customers once again, an ongoing challenge for managers and shop owners is to keep motivating their employees

Why is it important to motivate retail employees?

As well as gaining the satisfaction that comes with taking care of your employees’ wellbeing, and providing them with a pleasant place to work, there are several business considerations that make it necessary to motivate retail employees

If a shop assistant is feeling deflated and uninterested, this will reflect in the service they provide. A shop with disengaged employees is more likely to have poor customer experience rates, fewer sales, and therefore a lower turnover. According to recent research from Quantum, only 65% of retail workers are engaged. This means there is cause for concern in many shops.

How to motivate retail employees

There are a number of actions to take when it comes to keeping employees in retail feeling positive and engaged, from creating a happy work environment to reminding them how instrumental they are. 

  1. Control the narrative with regular communication

In difficult times such as those brought on by the spread of COVID-19, it’s all too easy for any of us to fall into feeling disheartened and anxious. In a work environment, this kind of negativity is heightened if colleagues start to talk together about their worries, and all the alarming facts and figures flooding the media.

While, of course, employees should feel free to voice their concerns, it’s important to make sure such an attitude does not start to take over the atmosphere as a whole. Be sure to be in regular communication with all your staff – both formally and informally – and encourage conversation about good news stories and positive events as much as possible.

  1. Offer incentives and rewards

A tried and tested method to motivate staff is to put in place some kind of reward scheme. For supermarkets and retail chains any financial incentives are likely to be dictated by head office, however, there are other ideas you can put in place on a smaller scale. Consider ideas such as:

  • Choice of break time
  • Division of tasks
  • Tea rounds
  • Extra snacks/treats

These ideas can be implemented relatively easily, and can be applied to various actions involving a job well done.

  1. Arrange social events and create fun at work 

Another way to avoid staff feeling dejected and demotivated is to keep a smile on their faces with social events. While UK government lockdown rules might make this somewhat challenging, take time to think outside the box and come up with some more creative ideas. Consider using video calling platforms like Zoom and Houseparty to arrange digital get-togethers. These can be used for anything from a pub quiz-style evening to a Sunday afternoon tea party.

As well as keeping the social scene stimulated outside the shop, consider if there are ways in which your teams could have more fun at work too. Whether this be with light-hearted competitions or unobtrusive games, fun activities will keep your staff enjoying work and feeling motivated to be there.

  1. Offer your teams praise and recognition 

As well as offering incentives and rewards, words of praise go a long way. A common reason why retail employees become complacent and uninterested is because they don’t feel important. This is something that can easily be avoided simply by taking the time to tell someone that they are appreciated. 

When staff work hard and show initiative, make an effort to ensure they know this has been recognised. Simply thanking someone for their actions is a very effective way of boosting confidence, and encouraging that person to keep up their hard work.

  1. Give staff responsibilities and development opportunities

Knowing that you’re being counted on for something makes most of us want to try harder and deliver. In the retail sector, all employees need to know that they are integral to the team and to the business, and a great way to achieve this is to divvy up responsibilities. When one staff member needs to count on another, each of them are more likely to stay focussed and motivated.

As well as giving staff responsibilities in this way, offering development opportunities – where possible – is also an effective motivation method. This could be either in the form of a promotion or with an external qualification course. If employees know they are headed somewhere, or gaining something, they are more likely to stay onboard and engaged.

None of us knew how to tackle the effects of this pandemic effectively at the beginning, but, as time has gone on, more new and effective work procedures have been brought to the fore. The world has relied upon the retail sector to keep going over recent months, and is likely to continue to do so. Because of this, it’s never been more important to keep retail staff engaged. While these certainly are trying times, with these motivation methods, it should be possible to create and maintain a positive atmosphere at work.

The article was written by Steve Cox, Chief Evangelist at FMP, a leading global outsourced payroll provider to SME organisations and retailers.