Keeping Employees Engaged

Zorn Retailers need to understand the causes behind burnout and how they can combat these to improve customer service and their employees’ well being. By Mike Zorn

Every year, employee burnout strikes retail employees when they have exhausted their physical or emotional strength during the holiday season. This usually occurs as a result of prolonged stress or frustration, and often the cause is the work environment. Stressful jobs, lack of support and resources, feeling unappreciated, and tight deadlines can all contribute to burnout. Other times, burnout has more to do with employees' expectations of themselves or their personal circumstances.

Burnout may also occur when employees are bored or depressed and under-stimulated. It can also be seen in employees that are fearful of losing their job, insecure about their level of work, or are unclear about job expectations. Regardless, it’s important for retailers to understand the signs and causes behind burnout in the retail industry, as well as how they can combat these to improve customer service and, moreover, their employees’ well-being.

What are some of the most common signs of employee burnout? How can retailers identify these in their workforce?

Some of the common signs of burnout are unexplained absences from work or other attendance issues, decreased productivity or quality of work, obvious frustration or temperament at work including increased complaining, decline in health, or lack of engagement or motivation at work. 

The impacts of burnout are also felt by employees’ peers and can impact team dynamics and camaraderie. Additionally, another less direct is the impact it has on the employee’s family; in turn, that leads to greater stress and burnout at work as part of a burnout cycle. 

Why is this especially common for retail associates during the holiday season? What other industries might experience this?

The intensity of the effort needed to prepare for the holiday, the long hours during the holidays, and the necessary level of physical and mental activity to meet customer demand all increase the potential for retail associates to experience burnout. This may also surface in the hospitality industry, the culinary industry, as well as any industry or company that is not sensitive to the needs of its associates and don’t work with them to minimize potential burnout.

Many experts would suggest that burnout is a company issue, rather than an employee issue. Companies that are aware of their workplace’s demands and the always-on digital world of work can support their associates and help avoid the negative impact of burnout. Working to develop a positive, employee-first company culture that supports a more disciplined work environment can help reduce burnout.

NRF predicts that retail sales will reach about $682 billion this season. With this number up significantly from last year, how can retailers prepare for a rise in demand now (to avoid burnout later)?

As is commonly said, preparation is 90 percent of the act. Retailers should ensure that plans are in place and communicated to all that need to know, and that regular associates have the opportunity to work and have some control over when they can’t work. Openly recognize and acknowledge the challenges and the importance of their work. Emphasis the positive and downplay the negative.

Communicate regularly and clearly the expectations and listen to feedback from the field what is working and what is not—this can be done both in person and via digital workplace platforms. Encourage stress relievers for employees by finding some time for fun, and encourage them to get away from the store on breaks by taking walks and relaxing.

By assigning tasks that meet the abilities and capabilities without overdoing it, fairly distributing the workload, and keeping track of employees’ mental well-being, employers can avoid burnout and boost customer service.

Mike Zorn is the vice president of workplace strategy for WorkJam. In his role, he works with client companies to develop strategies, using the WorkJam Digital Workplace, to empower and engage their hourly workforce.

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