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What the Retail Industry Needs to Get and Keep Employees

Business Acumen: Retail Industry

“Mom, I want noodles - the bow tie kind”, begged my four year old. I responded with a “Sorry, kiddo - no noodles today - the store was out”. Now…this may not seem like a big deal for most of you…but if you knew the obsession my child has with buttered noodles, you’d understand the dread that rained over me when I was staring at that empty wall at our local grocery store.

At this point, I think most of us, not just my picky four-year old, have felt the effects in one way or another of the supply chain issues and worker shortages that have been plaguing the US for the last year. I mean, c’mon, you can barely drive down the road without seeing a big sign offering a $1,000+ sign on bonus for people to join the staff at your local fast food joint, grocery store, or manufacturing facility. The Great Resignation has had a major impact on our retail, food and beverage, and manufacturing industries. Store shelves are bare and restaurants are cutting hours, not because the demand isn’t there, but because there is no one to stock the shelves, and wait those tables. In the last few years, we’ve seen massive unemployment rates, but now it’s like there’s not enough people to fill all those vacant positions - so, how did we get here?

The answer goes back to years of neglect towards hourly employees - the inconsistent schedules, low wages and lack of benefits, as well as the emotional and sometimes physical abuse from customers, and worst yet, the attitude of management. Management with poor communication skills, that push unrealistic expectations, goals, and deadlines on their employees are one of the primary reasons people leave positions. In fact, 57% of people in a recent study have said they left a position because of a bad boss.

The years of neglect coupled with tons of open positions in a variety of industries have retail employees running to find work in more stable industries with better pay and benefits. What I’m trying to say is, this isn’t something that happened overnight. The retail and food service industries have been mistreating and neglecting their staff for decades. For many, working in these positions is merely a resume builder, not something they intend to do for the rest of their lives. So, what can retailers do to entice talent to start with them, and more importantly, stay with them?

Well, as I mentioned above, many are offering starting bonuses, but there has also been some moves in the industry to raise salaries. In February, Target announced that it would raise starting wages for some positions up to $24/hour. Target also plans to spend an additional $300 million on its workforce which includes expanding access to healthcare benefits for hourly workers beginning in April.

And Target’s not alone.

In 2018, Amazon bumped it’s minimum wage to $15, and Best Buy followed suite in 2020. The largest US retailer, Walmart, also announced that their front end staff will get at least a dollar increase per hour raising their minimum to $12/hour.

While that seems like a good start, I’d like to re-emphasize that most people don’t leave positions based on pay, but because of bad bosses. So, what can these retailers do to help keep their talent? Better train their managers!

The Target’s, Walmart’s, and Best Buy’s of the world need to have solid leadership in place that understands not only their position, but how they can help their employees grow and thrive, and in turn how that will help the business. They need to see their staff as not just a body to stock shelves, but a valuable member of their team. Managers need business acumen! With business acumen, leaders will better understand their position, and how each role within the organization impacts the overall strategic goals of the company.

Strong business acumen will allow company leaders to help guide their team to success, and make the moves that will keep their employees happy - which is essential to keep their talent around!

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