How to keep staff on-side this Christmas

23 November 2023, 07:00 AM
  • Festive trading can be chaotic, but there are ways to come though it with staff loyalty on a high
How to keep staff on-side this Christmas

Let’s be honest: Christmas trading can be gruelling. There will be headaches. There will be lost delivery drivers, and card machine dropouts as a queue is building, and regulars expecting the earth despite ignoring all your last orders messaging. This much we know. But all is well when your team is on its a-game and putting out fires all around your operation, right?

That’s why phrases like ‘quiet quitting’ or ‘the big resignation’ really are the nightmare before Christmas. While you navigate the demanding currents of retail in December, your employees young and old will be responding to crosswinds of their own. When it comes to retaining and motivating staff the game has well and truly changed, so how can you hang onto the people – arguably your business’s biggest asset – who will help your business thrive this Christmas?

All about the money?
‘I could earn more stacking shelves in Aldi’ has become seductive thought for many a frazzled professional – you may have considered as much yourself when lavishing hours of labour on an unrewarding project. But basic remuneration (£10.50 per hour at Aldi, if you’re still tempted) isn’t your only leverage over teetering staff.

“The cost-of-living crisis has affected the things that motivate staff,” says Pam Hinds, head of HR at staff management software provider RotaCloud. “Pay is obviously one of the most important factors when it comes to taking or staying with a job, but creating a great working environment is also key to staff motivation.”

“In all cases of economic hardship it’s young workers on lower salaries who feel the financial burden more,” adds Toby Fowlston, chief executive of recruitment consultancy Robert Walters. “Their lack of experience – exacerbated further by the pandemic – puts them in a much weaker position than their older, more experienced counterparts when trying to bargain for higher pay.”

The good news, if your costs are already far north of your comfort zone, is that you can do a good deal to mitigate an underwhelming wage offer. “Employers will be unable to increase pay at the same rate of inflation,” points out Toby.

“That’s a fact, so this is where softer perks and benefits really do have a chance to make a difference.” Pam agrees. “Offering things like flexible and reliable working hours, extra benefits like discounts and rewards, and good amounts of annual leave to help support a positive work/life balance, all help with employee retention.”

Can you be more flexible?
“One of the keys to retaining and motivating your staff is to offer as much flexibility as possible,” says Pam. “This could be flexibility over their hours, like making accommodations for childcare or making sure shifts are fixed and hours are regular; over the locations they work (if possible); or flexibility in their positions such as offering training so that they can move up or sideways into a different role should they want it.”

Could you rethink the rota to allow your full-time employees a couple of precious half days to go to the school nativity, or get on top of Christmas shopping? Is there wiggle room to allow Saturday juniors to dabble in social media posts that expose your aisles to new attention while fleshing out their CVs?

“By offering flexibility you give staff more autonomy over their working lives and their time outside of work,” says Pam. “Flexibility is consistently one of the most requested workplace benefits, and one of the top cited reasons for taking a new job.”

It could also be the antidote to ‘grind culture’, the idea that employees must work ever harder, smarter and faster to reach their life goals. With traditional milestones (home ownership, starting a family, early retirement) out of reach for most millennials, a better work/life balance in the here and now is more attractive than ever.
Fighting ‘quiet quitting’
So what about your younger team members, whom statistics suggest are likely to have moved back in to the family home and be more determined than their predecessors to put their own wellbeing above your expectations of them? The phrase ‘quiet quitting’ – coined in a viral clip by TikToker Zkchillin – resonates with many millennials whose disenchantment with work manifest an inner determination to ‘act their wage’ and stop going above and beyond.

“This behaviour isn’t something entirely new,” says Toby. “There have always been less motivated individuals in the workplace. However, the real concern here is that unlike those few workers who tend to consciously be less productive at work, ‘quiet quitting’ is often a subconscious act borne out of frustrations toward the workplace.

“It’s easy for managers to pull their employees up on lack of productivity, but unless they get to the bottom of the ‘why’ their motivation has dropped, then quiet quitting could well become a silent movement that has a damaging effect on your business’s productivity and profitability.”

Listening is an invaluable exercise, says Julia Kirby-Smith, who ran the Fridge of Plenty urban farm shop in Crouch End before taking up a leading role at sustainability network Better Food Traders.

“People don’t often think about performance management in retail, but in the farm shop we made sure we did annual appraisals, including personal development chat in the conversation to check in with our staff. You need to know where they are at.

“For example, we had someone who’d been training part-time as a teacher. Having a chat over a coffee meant I could hear what she was saying…it was obvious she wanted to go back to teaching at some point so then that was on the horizon. Scheduling these chats helps you see what’s coming rather than getting a sudden shock.

“It might also mean you can find ways of working with staff – maybe letting them go part time or moving them into a new role. If you can find a way to work with your staff it helps you keep them on, even if that means reduced hours so they can follow their other passions.”

Retaining experience
It’s not just millennials who will benefit from a personalised approach. New analysis from The Health Foundation finds ill health unrelated to Covid-19 is pushing people over 50 out of the workforce. Which brings us to ‘the great resignation’, the phenomenon whereby older workers – you know, the ones who can convert from pounds and ounces and have the best horror stories about Christmas sampling events past – quietly exit the workplace a few years before anyone had expected.

Whilst many older workers were staying in employment longer before the pandemic, a long-term trend for underlying ill health has been exposed in the last year, causing The Health Foundation to focus on the barriers to work for staff suffering ill health.

“If the government’s growth plan is to achieve its overall aims, it must treat health and wealth as inseparable,” says Alice Major, one of its analysts. “Focusing on supporting people with ill-health back into employment can boost labour supply and make a substantive contribution to growth.”

Pam believes strong listening skills will help get your approach to motivation right for your whole team, whether they need extra support with an evolving health problem or a role that better fits their future aspirations. “There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to motivating staff, and choosing perks or benefits based on age categories or assumptions is not only going to do you a disservice, it’s potentially discriminatory,” she says.

“You should speak to your staff one-on-one, find out what their individual needs and motivations are, and design a benefits package or incentive programme based on those conversations. The investment in time that you make here will far outweigh the costs of implementing something that no one wants or uses.”

You might even be surprised by the incentives that matter most to your staff. “Increasingly we’re seeing utility vouchers, travel cards, and streaming subscriptions all being offered to prospective employees,” says Toby. No one’s suggesting you hook Christmas storeroom temps up with Disney+, but could a staff discount card or training in transferrable skills sweeten the deal? Maybe.

close stay up-to-date with our free newsletter | expert intel | tailored industry news | new-to-know trend analysis | sign up | speciality food daily briefing