Boosting Employee Morale In Retail

Boosting Employee Morale In Retail

According to Sociologist and Harvard Professor Alexander Leighton, “morale is the capacity of a group of people to pull together persistently and consistently in pursuit of a common purpose.” Mr Leighton spoke to the fact that morale is particularly important during times of challenges and controversy. As most retail organizations continue to fix their profit and customer experience issues we are wearing away at the morale that we desperately need to drive results. Leaders, particularly those who are responsible for the customer facing teams, must know how to inspire and maintain a high-level of morale if they are committed to success and excellence for their team. Unfortunately, it is all to common that morale is measured by the team’s ability to execute directives; a common misconception of someone in a leadership position trying to apply a management theory to people instead of processes.

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In a previous post I referenced a retail organization I recently worked with and the great opportunity I had to gain a 360 degree understanding of the morale and state of employee engagement by spending time in the stores and in the corporate office with a diverse and vivid assortment of company employees.

One of the greatest moments I experienced was in speaking with a store team where the District “Manager” held them to a particular metric standard. In every email and every “Store Visit” this number [as all numbers were] was communicated in bold and underlined for impact. This particular store team has felt consistently berated by their “manager” for not hitting this metric. [For context: there was an expectation of 70% attachment rate for an add-on item in-store.] This same DM spoke on a territory/zone conference call and stated the company-wide was 20% less than the number she has been holding her team accountable to. Needless to say this was a huge source of contention with the team as I spoke with them. What this meant to them was that they were never celebrated for hitting company standard – their perception was that they were being “set-up” for not achieving this mythical number this manager was trying to push their team towards through misleading communication and some team members actually believed she was attempting to sabotage their self- and team-confidence.

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There was a colorful plethora of opinions about this “manager” from their team:

  • The DM is a control freak;
  • The DM is horrible;
  • The DM just wants to be #1 and doesn’t care about us;
  • The DM is dishonest.

The only common theme was that the teams were confused and unhappy. Teams felt deflated and were made to feel ineffective [though most of them were hitting/beating the company metric standard but had never been recognized for that accomplishment].

Signs Of Low Morale

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All too often, because of the day-to-day routine and the expectations we are charged with exceeding, we miss the signs that morale is declining among our team members. To be truly effective leaders we need to be constantly tuned into [and speaking with our teams about] how they are feeling and support them through obstacles and business challenges through openness and honest leadership. Here are some signs to watch out for:

  • Obvious unhappiness;
  • Increased complaints about work, or other coworkers;
  • Increased absenteeism;
  • An increase in conflict between team members;
  • Insubordination or unruliness;
  • Disorganized work environments;
  • Increased employee turnover;
  • Decreased productivity;
  • Lack of enthusiasm.

Since employee morale can quickly build or break a company’s performance momentum, effective leaders are determined to keep a close eye on it and enlist simple and creative approaches to strengthen it and model the behaviors that are conducive to keeping a positive perspective on the change or challenge and supporting the initiative with clear and energizing communication, authenticity, empathy, innovation, and recognizing results!

8 Ways To Support Elevated Morale For Your Team

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  • Authentically Reconnect With Your Team: Teams that know and trust their leader feel more connected to their role and your leadership. With regular contact filled with engaging and understanding communication, you can reestablish trust, credibility, and rapport with your team. There are times when we all need to step back from our role and get feedback from our team on the effectiveness of our leadership. Keep in mind that lack of appreciation/recognition is often cited as one of the primary root causes of low morale.
  • Keep Your Team Members Feeling Passionate About Your Team’s Purpose [Not The Paycheck]: Most of us work to earn a living, yes. Many of us want to enjoy our work environment, our customer, our coworkers, and find alignment between the organization’s vision/values and our own. However, though, that purpose gets lost in the day-to-day grind and the many tasks we have to perform while driving results. Having your team share their stories of success with their coworkers and recognizing true results of the team consistently will help support a positive culture in your area of responsibility. When we set our team’s up to fail by making metrics or deliverables tough or unreasonable to attain we are asking for problems.

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  • Challenge The Status Quo: All great leaders know that what got you here won’t get you there. Departing from the customary routine of “but this is how we’ve always done it” or  moldy, out-dated processes can go a long way toward building morale.  There is a new way to work in retail – there has to be if retailers and their team’s are determined to be successful and maintain relevance.
  • Support The Development of Your Team To Identify The Positives Of Change & Evolution: In an environment where you find confused and chaotic communication and constantly shifting priorities – most teams will become disengaged and morale will be negatively impacted. A great leader can develop their team to interpret and bring clarity and understanding to overwhelming communication, identify the meaning & purpose behind the communication(s), and how to connect the dots between the information and the organization’s goals and objectives.

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  • Celebrate/Recognize: Especially the moments when your team needs a boost nothing works quite so well as a recognition, reward, and celebration. Make time to create a culture that shows value and appreciation of results and contribution consistently. It’s amazing how happy a simple “thank you” or “great job” can make a team member feel. Find out what drives your employees as individuals and reward them for remarkable work with something of value to them to ensure your efforts show true appreciation for their work!
  • Onboard Your New Hires Into Your Culture: Most orientation programs are too short or – just as horrible – too long and ineffective as well as being poorly delivered. People are flung into new roles without any sense of connection to an organization’s purpose, its customers, business partners and collective work teams, and the specific work they were hired to do. Onboarding and delivering a clear and exciting message of organizational purpose needs to be an experience that every new hire, no matter their role, witnesses organizational purpose being played out firsthand and customer value being delivered.

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  • Help Your Employees Reach Their Full Potential: Providing career development lets an employee know their presence and future is valued. Most employees look for skills development and growth to help them reach their full potential. Training doesn’t have to break the bank, it can be as simple as opportunities for newer employees to pair up with long-term employees or to be part of solution-seeking groups to improve on existing skills and knowledge or you can help to broaden their skills and knowledge by allowing them time to work in other departments or in other volumes of business.
  • Highlight and Reference The Organization’s Vision & Values – Frequently: Going back to driving morale but connecting business decisions to the goals and objectives of the organization – understanding the company’s mission will help guide strong decision making and the desire to deliver results that improve and overcome business obstacles. When the employees understand the direction and foundation of the organization, they are more likely support it enthusiastically.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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