8 Signs You Have A Terrible Retail Employee

8 Signs You Have A Terrible Retail Employee

Back in February I wrote about the 15 Traits Of A Terrible Retail Leader, which – to date – has been my most shared blog post. I put myself – and several of my colleagues – under a microscope of self-reflection to ensure that we were focused on being the best leaders for our team that we possibly could be. That post was the catalyst for a lot of conversations, and a lot of email dialogs, some very vivid Skype dialogs. All of those things were wonderful and fun results simply for talking about real issues we experience and we deal with and our team members deal with every day.

Today, I wanted to write about the signs of a terrible retail employee. In the recent weeks I have been having a lot of great conversations with people around how much guidance and coaching should we deliver to our most challenging and, sometimes, truly terrible retail managers. As retail leaders we need to be able to throw in the towel on a person after we have given them their best chance at turning their performance around and our support in doing so.

Why We Need To Give Every Employee Their Best Chance

Employee engagement and involvement influences the most vital and important part of the business in retail. It also determines, for the most part how efficient and strong the customer experience and operational accountabilitys will be. All retail organizations are made up of teams and those teams made of individuals, it is important that each and every person is pulling his or her weight in order to reach the organization’s goals and objectives. The number one killer of momentum is lack of individual motivation as it relates to team objectives and goals.

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An unmotivated employee not only fails to perform their own duties, but also affects the people around them and, in the long run can cause – at times – irreversible damage or they create overwhelming obstacles and impediments to team success.

The frustrating part about this type of retail employee is that you know they have it in them to do really well, but they are making the conscious decision to give up and to become an burden to the business. When you suspect that someone has “checked out”, there are some things you can do to spark their ambition but if they – once again – make the choice not to perform and deliver, there is not much you can do.  Each and every retail team member has a unique personality and background and requires different motivation than others to achieve success. These issues are absolutely time-sensitive – especially at the Store Leader level and above and allowing these poor- and or under-performers to exist can stall a store’s/team’s growth and left unaddressed, can bleed into the other team members and business partners and this can critically disrupt forward momentum.

Thoughts On How To Spark Their Ambition

  • Assign A Passion Project With A Deadline: Retail leaders are often driven by goals and are more likely to achieve something if they have had success with it in the past and can reconnect with something inspiring or motivational. Providing an employee with specific tasks and deadlines will give them a sense of urgency and an opportunity to achieve success. Furthermore, it can give them a tremendous feeling of ownership over the project(s) and make them want to complete them.

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  • Provide Them With An Opportunity To Shine: Junior-level retail leaders often burnout and choose to “check out” because they feel they are not able to reach their full potential in the position they hold. Recognizing a person’s strengths and abilities and assigning projects accordingly will give them a chance to recapture the feeling of professional accomplishment. Additionally, giving a previously strong leader a challenge that allows them to think critically and creatively can make the work less mundane and tedious. If they can produce and deliver great results you may get them back on track as they will see that there is challenge and reward in the business.
  • Encourage Communication: It’s amazing how effective simple communication can be in solving most workplace problems. Being able to voice your concerns to an previously solid leader and encouraging feedback from them is one of the biggest things you can do for that person, their team, and for yourself. Half of the battle when it comes to lack of motivation is determining the “why”. This is an important moment to share how they fit into the goals and objective of the organization and their alignment within the company and team vision & values. Trust plays an important role, and making sure a store leader knows that can be a catalyst for re-energizing their perspective of the business. Team collaboration can also promote engaging and motivating communication as well and more driven and energized individuals can motivate an employee who has become apathetic or complacent find their place on the team again.

Once you have given the retail leader the opportunity to rejoin the team effort and support to deliver a performance that contributes to the health and growth of the collective team – and they fail to live up to the deadlines or expectations, it’s time to look at the other identifiers that may point to the fact that this employee is too far gone in their apathy and is no longer salvageable and will, likely, do more harm if we use hope as a strategy and keep them on.

8 Signs You Have A Terrible Retail Employee

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  • They See Their Direct Leadership As An Adversary: You hear “you” and “they” more than you hear “I/Me” and “Us”. You also identify that they are actively disengaged and sharing their unhappiness with their coworkers, team members, colleagues – basically, anyone who will listen they complain to. And, just for the record – in these situations – no matter how close these terrible employee’s feel they are to others, their “friends” will share what they are saying with their direct supervisor. Nothing is secret for long in retail.
  • They Actively Reference The Phrase “It’s Not My Job”, Consistently: Or they actively reference organizational policy or state law with some consistency. It is a huge red flag that you have lost that person when they look for reasons why they can’t or won’t perform job duties that are requested/required of their role and even things they have previously, with enthusiasm, taken on as stretch assignments or projects.
  • They Are Selective About Their Leadership’s “Suggestions”: More often than not, in retail, when we discuss planning or strategy – or even accountability’s with our team members we deliver direction as a suggestion. Then there are times we need our team members to deliver a specific result or feedback in a needed time frame. These complacent and lost employees select what they will and won’t deliver. Almost challenging the leader and certainly bordering on insubordination. If your team member habitually ignores requests or input that they don’t agree with, over time you will need to scrutinize and closely manage that person’s work and co-working relationships to make sure they’re not rejecting aspects of assignments they don’t like or just simply don’t want to do.

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  • Their Allies Turn Against Them: As I mentioned before – nothing stays secret for very long – especially when most retail employees at the Assistant Store Leader and Store Leader level have their own agenda(s). I was recently visiting with and learning about a Store Leader who is long-time “friends” with another Store Leader in their market but they were all too happy to share with me that their colleague was on their third interview with another retailer. When coworkers see their previously engaged team members fall flat and become disengaged, they will quickly share issues that cause challenges, along with sharing secrets that were previously meant just for the two of them. What this leaves the challenged employee with is no one to provide a reference or endorse their skill set to their next job because they have burned their bridges.
  • They Consistently Ask For Forgiveness Over Permission: I recently instituted a policy in a retail organization that I am working with where the Store Manager’s must call their direct supervisor when they are late for work, leaving early, or sick. The process (which was not policy) was to text or email so that there could/would be no dialog around the change of schedule. This was certainly a “a-ha” moment for the field leadership who found that their hard-working, trust-worthy, reliable store leaders had no issue communicating via the phone their scheduling inconsistencies, while their “managers” who we had recognized as having “checked out” still would text or email – and when it was addressed, they’d apologize or say they hadn’t seen the updated policy or they forgot. Though it is true that we value independent judgment, empowerment, and autonomy in the retail workplace and guide our team’s to these skills – when a new policy/process is rolled out and your bad employees feign ignorance – it is just another critical clue that they are ready to be exited from the business.

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  • They Are Masterful At Excuses And/Or Assigning Blame: Sometimes retail employees think they’re serving a valuable role by playing devil’s advocate, but constantly poking holes in the enthusiasm of ideas and suggestions takes the wind out of new ideas and initiatives and extinguishes other’s enthusiasm. Employees that are too far gone to salvage always offer excuses as to why something cannot be done. They surface a lot of obstacles and issues, but never a solution. They are more consumed with excusing their poor performance and assigning blame to the customer, their coworkers, their team, and/or the weather than investing any effort into delivering a good performance.
  • They Speak Poorly Of Every Supervisor They’ve Had: This goes with one of the previous points that they assign their lack of forward movement in their career on their bosses. Certainly they were deserving of a better role and more capable than of any of their previous leaders. If they’ve never been satisfied with a leader they’ve worked with, if they are the common denominator and it’s likely to reflect something that’s going on with them. And that should be a topic to dig into in the interview phase of the relationship. It might be their inability to be satisfied, unrealistic expectations, a problem with authority, a general anger problem, and/or they simply cannot play well with others.
  • They Are Challenging You To Let Them Go: I know this may seem strange for some of you who haven’t experienced this – but, there are employees who deliberately engage in a campaign of awfulness in order to be fired. When some people “give up” they wish to go out with a bang. Leaving ruin in their wake. After many many years in retail I have recently experienced this person while supporting a business in the California market. I find this type of employee fascinating, so I started asking them questions. This person feels as though they have been wronged and victimized for six years and they don’t want to continue with the organization. They admitted to giving up and want to be fired. They stated to me that they have been working on it for about six months and are upset because the District Manager never visits when they are scheduled so they don’t know if their message is being received.

After all is said and done there is only so much we can do for an employee who doesn’t want to perform. We can talk, guide, coach, counsel, beg, and plead for them to be better and do better. We can give them our time, our energy, and our words.

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At the end of the day – the time to give up on an employee is when they have truly given up on themselves. You cannot help someone who doesn’t want to be helped and in today’s retail landscape we cannot afford to keep mediocre or poor performers on our teams if we seek to deliver remarkable results – we just can’t.  There is someone great out there [with 43,600 unemployed retail employees in the job market] who will be happy and motivated to deliver excellence.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail and 18 year retailer. I am a passionate and creative leader and coach committed to inspiring thought, action, truth-telling, solution-seeking, and dialog about how to maximize talent through identifying and creating a process around critical success factors, workplace culture, signature leadership practices, productivity, profitability, alignment of employees and company vision & values, and workplace happiness inside all retail organizations. I help create healthy, vibrant, high-performing, and highly-productive organizations that are talent magnets and focused on delivering the highest level of customer experience that will differentiate them from competition and result in long-term growth and sustainability.

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