Effective Retention of New Retail Employees Starts Early, During the Hiring Process
In this article we discuss how retailers can effectively optimize their retention of new hires, in what has become an increasingly competitive market since the Pandemic spurred-on the “Great Resignation.”
Employee retention in retail, as in many other industries, begins early on in a candidate’s interaction with a company. From the very start, it is important for an organization to have the mindset that the candidate is also evaluating the employer and may well have other options from which to choose. Maintaining this mindset is particularly important in the current post-pandemic environment where a shortage of candidates has provided them with more independence and negotiating power in this process.
First impressions matter and a retailer can make a good one right out of the gate by bringing the workplace to life for candidates during the interview process. In-office and walking interviews enable candidates to meet existing employees and see the working environment while also being interviewed and evaluated on-the-go, based upon real world interactions with the people, and in the place, they may ultimately be working.
Before and after the interview, it is in a retailer’s best interest to be highly responsive to any questions or concerns candidates may express either in person, via email, video call or phone. Responding in a timely manner, with information that addresses any points raised in an open and direct manner provides candidates with confidence that they are interviewing with a company that has a culture that values people and cares about their opinions. Failing to respond in this manner can be equally damaging, leaving candidates with the impression that if they are being ignored now, they will be ignored once they join the company. Importantly, this also extends to how a retailer communicates with a candidate who is ultimately not going to be selected for a position. Whether via an automated system or personal interaction, each candidate should be made aware of where they stand in the hiring process, not left to speculate for weeks-on-end about why they have never heard back from the company. Handling these interactions in the right way can still lead to referral of other candidates and positive vs. negative social media reviews of interactions with the company, which may be read not only by other candidates but by retail customers as well.
Prior to the Start Date
Even once a candidate has been offered a position and has signed an offer letter, keeping things on track is critical in retail as, particularly in the current environment, the potential new employee is still susceptible to being lured away by seemingly more compelling opportunities. Retention at this stage can be accomplished in large part simply by remaining in close contact and engaged. For example: Have you designated a specific opportunity for them to ask additional questions and then provided open and honest answers? Have they seen written or A/V materials that present your mission, vision and values in a compelling way? What information can you provide them about who they’ll be working with and what their first day, week, month will look like? Who will be their mentor during the on-boarding process? Checking these and other boxes can help to ensure retention by making them feel like part of the team right at the start of their relationship with your retail organization, even before their first official day on the job.
Recent research by specialist recruiter Robert Half shows that 91% of new employees are willing to quit a new job in the first month if it turns out not to be what they expected or if they simply do not like the company’s culture. And a surprising number of new employees, 33% in fact, actually resign in the first 90 days, according to a separate study by Jobvite. While not specific to retail, these findings reinforce how essential it is to ensure that employees are well onboarded.
Not surprisingly, taking the steps necessary to make sure that new hires receive their first paycheck on time, at the right location and in the correct amount should be a top priority. Completion of any administrative forms and/or online information needed to ensure prompt and proper delivery of that first paycheck should be handled on the first day of employment, if not before.
A clear presentation and benefits packet should be provided to new employees with encouragement to complete timely registration for retirement investment programs, medical/dental/vision and any other optional benefits, or benefits which require a choice of coverage or participation that they may wish to select.
To support new employees’ ability to register for the above, to conduct any computer based learning or tasks and to be able to function at the highest potential capacity out of the gate, it is imperative to ensure that any computers, hand-held devices, apps or other equipment they will be using moving ahead are set up properly and in a timely manner upon their arrival on the first day. Training and support should be provided in all cases.
New team members should be provided with personal introductions to those they will be working with, not simply left to their own devices to introduce themselves. This is very helpful in creating a sense of team, belonging and emphasizes a culture of inclusiveness and support early on in the employer/employee relationship. Clear communication regarding what the employee’s daily schedule will look like, what to expect and what expectations their managers and coworkers have for them should also be proactively provided.
Managers and/or training team personnel should provide a clear explanation of the training they will be delivering to new employees, and employees should be urged to ask questions to ensure they fully understand both the investment that the company is making in them, as well as the importance of their own full and enthusiastic participation as an investment in themselves and their own careers.
Establishing a mentor for each new employee serves multiple purposes. Mentors provide an example of the potential that exists within the organization and how individuals can advance their careers with the company. They provide guidance to help new employees navigate their way through both daily and complex long-term challenges, and establish a valuable sounding board for questions and concerns that new employees may hesitate to ask others with whom they work either directly or indirectly. Importantly, mentors also provide an additional window of insight into the culture of the organization, setting a tangible example for new employees to follow in their work and interactions.
Mentors and managers should establish recurring check-ins with all new employees. Initially, these can be at the end or start of each new work day to mitigate any areas of confusion, dissatisfaction or bad habits that can quickly develop but go unnoticed. Check-ins can shift to a weekly timeframe, then monthly and ultimately less frequently once the first 90-days of employment have passed and employees are deemed to be on a success-oriented track.
Healthy Work Environment
A 2022 Gallup/Workhuman report entitled, Unleashing the Human Element at Work: Transforming Workplaces Through Recognition provides insight into the importance of recognition to employees. According to the report, well executed employee recognition results in employees who are:
- Less likely to leave: 5x as likely to see a path to grow in the organization
- More satisfied: 44% more likely to be “thriving” in their life overall
- More productive: 73% less likely to “always” or “very often” feel burned out
- More engaged: 4x as likely to be actively engaged at work
- More connected: 5x as likely to feel connected to their workplace culture
Employee recognition can include simple gestures, such as a team lunch or gift cards for one or more team members to recognize a job well done on a project, during a crisis, in relation to customer service or just as a normal part of everyday business or assisting others across the organization. Technology advancement has now also enabled simplified integration of e-rewards platforms and automation for retailers. Peer-to-Peer recognition company HiThrive (hithrive.com), for example, has built a platform that is optimized for in-store, back and front office or remote use, thereby engaging and enabling employees to recognize others on their teams and be recognized right within the flow of their daily work.
Recognition efforts should extend to the celebration of milestones, such as a recognition of a newer employee’s first anniversary, as well as other milestones such as completion of training courses, certifications, and successful projects. These may also be related to successful holiday or seasonal merchandising efforts and warehouse/DC optimization or relocation projects.
Company milestone anniversaries can also create an opportunity to engage employees through live and virtual gatherings, planned activities, raffles and gamified team building exercises.
Importantly, Demonstrating flexibility with newer employees who have earned trust is also a form of recognition. This can be accomplished by accommodating requests to revise set work schedules and store opening or closing responsibilities.
For newly hired retail employees, the ability to obtain clear instruction, direction and feedback from both managers and more tenured peers is critical to development and engagement. Failure to openly communicate on an ongoing basis including setting clear expectations for, and soliciting general feedback from, new hires can result in their feeling ill-equipped or overwhelmed in the new workplace. This can lead to decreased productivity and/or work quality, resulting in low job satisfaction and increasing the potential for employee attrition. Conversely, when communication is used effectively to provide early constructive feedback on daily performance and to explain how an employee’s current role can lead to a variety of career path options within the company, it reinforces the new hire’s belief that they made the right decision, are working for a quality organization and within an environment that is supportive and nurturing of their long-term career goals.
Lastly, it is important to add that to effectively facilitate the vast majority of the post-hiring process steps outlined in this article, it is critical for senior management to get buy-in from the team and other designated leaders to ensure their active participation in creating an environment in which new employees can and do thrive within the organization. In our experience, this is not likely to happen universally without first setting this expectation and then providing team leaders with tailored training on how to manage and engage new hires for success specifically within the retailer’s store, warehouse or office environments. Leader performance evaluations should include KPIs reflective of these duties, as well as 360 degree or other internal feedback, that includes input from those who were in new hire roles during the period covered by the performance review cycle. Executing successfully on leader engagement is absolutely critical to optimizing new hire retention efforts across the retail organization.
Providing broad and deep expertise across all retail sectors, Hilco Merchant Resources delivers a wide range of analytical, advisory, asset monetization, and capital investment solutions to help define and execute non-core strategic initiatives for our retail and consumer goods clients. We have developed and utilize a variety of tools and proprietary technology to assist clients with employee engagement, optimized performance and retention. Please contact us today to discuss your current needs. We are here to help.