Productivity In Retail

Productivity In Retail

This is a topic I have been reading a lot about lately now that we are in the throes of the holiday season. This topic is important to me for a couple of reasons: (1) It’s the holidays and the expectation on the field is overwhelming in some companies with tasking, managing sales, providing customer experience, six-day work weeks, people having to sacrifice their holiday to work on Thanksgiving, Hanuakkah and Christmas; (2) If you are an “exempt” employee in retail, you are expected to work excessive hours regardless of how productive or unproductive they are and; (3) There is an abundance of information available to us that shows how unproductive and unhealthy extreme hours are – regardless of industry.

Back In 2013 Vouchercloud conducted a study on productivity. This study identified that, over the course of a traditional 8 hour work day of an office worker, only 2 hours and 53 minutes were productive. Here is how the other time was spent:

-Checking Social Media: 44 minutes of the day
-Reading News Websites: 65 minutes of the day
-Discussing Non-Work Activities with Colleagues: 40 minutes of the day
-Making Hot Drinks: 17 minutes of the day
-Smoking Breaks: 23 minutes of the day
-Texting and IM’ing: 14 minutes of the day
-Snacking: 8 minutes of the day
-Preparing Food: 7 minutes of the day
-Calling Friends/Family: 18 minutes of the day
-Searching For A New Job: 26 minutes of the day

and we also know that employees in the US spend an average of 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflct a work, another time waster.

The strangest part of having this knowledge so available is that most companies have not altered the way they work. We are stuck with this antiquated notion that we are “supposed to” work from 8-5 or 9-6 every day. There is definitely a #NewWayToWork and retail organizations need to explore the options to support and encourage more than three hours of productivity a day (or approximately 13 hours of maximum productivity a week).

Here is an blurb I referenced in a previous post from a September 2013 issue of The Economist that cited: “The Greeks are some of the most hardworking in the OECD, putting in over 2,000 hours a year on average. Germans, on the other hand, are comparative slackers, working about 1,400 hours each year. But German productivity is about 70% higher.” – interesting information. I have also referenced a study conducted by this study by John Pencavel, Stanford Professor which states that “productivity output was proportionate to time worked up to 49 hours per week. Beyond that, it rose at decreasing rate, for instance – those who put in 70 hours a week had the same productivity of someone who worked 56 hours“.

Being in retail we all sign up for and understand that there are times of the year that require more hours and, frankly, I think most of us enjoy when there is a need for increased activity. But the majority of the year schedules can be managed to support the ultimate productivity of your team.

Obviously in retail stores – that environment is slightly different as we are catering to and creating a customer experience. The store teams adhere to mall/center hours. The manager and their support staff needs to be in the business during peak traffic to ensure that the customer expectations are exceeded and that the company initiatives are as well. But the field employees accept roles based on their love of customer contact and, usually, a great level of involvement in the variety of responsibilities they get to engage in. That being said – leaders can help support them by showing them how to manage their schedules and develop their time management and delegation skills. This will help them be able to meet their job role and responsibility and the needs of the business and team in a reasonable amount of hours. This should be a standard and supporting their development to get them to this point will elevate engagement and workplace happiness for your field teams and help to make them highly-productive.

Business is anything but usual now and retail organizations that were once solely brick-and-mortar are now playing in an omni-channel world. We have started thinking out of the proverbial box on how we connect with, market to, and, ultimately, capture, as customers, the six living generations of consumers. We have to start to understand the work expectations, patterns, and productivity motivators of at least four of these generations as well and how to, appeal to and maximize their productivity.

Here are some great articles on Workplace Productivity that I have read recently (some of the points detailed in these articles I have covered in my post #Retail Time Management):

From The Week UK: “The Rise Of The Mobile Worker”
From Personal Excellence: “The 8 Habits Of Highly Productive People”
From Fast Company: “7 Long-Term Productivity Habits Of The Most Successful People”

As leaders, we absolutely need to focus on high-value projects. We need to have capable, strong support staff that we are developing that can help us with the tasks that are secondary in priority.

Several weeks ago I wrote a post titled Work/Life Balance In #Retail following a project for a company that was trying to support this initiative for their employees. As is my norm – I posted it to LinkedIn and received great feedback but also feedback that showed a pretty gloomy outlook. I recall one comment that was “Doesn’t happen. If you won’t do the work, they will find someone else who will. Work life balance doesn’t exist in retail”, because people associate hours worked with productivity, that concept has been SO ingrained in us. But…that was not the point, the post was not about dropping everything as soon as you log 40 hours – it was about managing your time effectively and being diligent about planning/prioritizing and not working excessive hours (aka: wasted time or pretending to look busy to give the illusion of productivity). If you are incapable of delivering results in 40-45 hours per week in retail, that is a time management or planning issue on your part. (Caveat: with the exception of retail events such as: store openings, inventories, etc.) That comment was absolutely valid, if you deliver mediocre or under-performing results and drop everything when you hit 40 hours…you should be replaced because you are not effective in your role. Hours worked do not directly correlate to high-productivity in retail. Quality of work, quantity of work do, for sure. Having passion and being able to deliver results that “wow” your leadership and customer consistently on-time or early shows your commitment to productivity. Self-developing and being able to take on stretch assignments, because you have your high-value items complete, within your working week also shows productivity. Through learning #Retail Time Management, planning, and how to effectively delegate you should absolutely be able to manage your productivity for full impact and great results consistently.

Retail Organizations: It is time to consider a #NewWayToWork to support productivity. If an employee is only productive 30% of their day today because we are stuck with an old-school mentality on how and when they should work – it’s time for a new strategy. If you are paying an employee a salary of $70,000 per year – They are “earning” $21000 of that salary in productivity. That means, you are paying them $49000 to check Facebook, take smoke breaks, read the news, and to look for a new job. Obviously we don’t paint all employees with the same brush – for example we know that 21% of employees are highly engaged. That means it is likely 21% of your employees are very productive and are committed to earning every cent of their salary. 52% are not engaged in their company and 19% are actively disengaged. The 52% is likely your 3-5 hours of productivity a day out of their entire work days. The actively disengaged are probably maxing out at 2 hours and 53 minutes. Change is needed to support a productive workplace culture.

We have ample information, at our fingertips, to make smart business decisions, to improve and elevate the culture of a company and to support and develop business and employee growth. We know exactly what is going through our employee minds about work:

“Why Good People Quit In #Retail (And What Compels Them To Stay)”
#Retail Workplace Happiness
Fostering a Culture of Employee Advocacy In #Retail
Deadly Sins of #Retail Communication
#RetailProblems On Twitter
Supporting and Inspiring Change In #Retail

It is time there is a focused effort on making the workplace best place to work for employees. It can be done. It can be done in companies that currently struggle with culture or engagement and it can be done in companies that are inconsistent in culture and employee engagement. It’s never too late to reinvent or evolve your company culture! It is de rigueur these days in order to cultivate and grow a healthy, productive, profitable, happy, and engaged retail business.


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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