10 Ideas for improving retail employee engagement

10 Ideas for improving retail employee engagement

Employee engagement is a crucial part of running a sound, successful business in any industry — but in retail, the stakes are even higher. 

Retail employees often work long hours, nights, weekends, and holidays, and they’re on their feet longer than almost any other profession. Employee turnover rates are substantially higher in retail than in other industries (5% vs a 3.9% average across all other industries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics research). Burnout is also a valid concern in the retail industry — a recent study found that more than half (55.5%) of retail workers experience burnout. It’s no secret that unhappy employees often make for unhappy customers.  

Retail employee engagement should be at the forefront of any retail business plan, especially in the digital world we’re all living in, where a complaint or quip can go viral with just the touch of a “post” button. 

Keep reading to learn more about how critical employee motivation and engagement in the retail sector is, why it might be lacking in your workforce, and, most importantly, how to engage retail employees effectively and efficiently so your brand reputation and revenue can take off in 2024. 

The importance of improving retail employee engagement

Engagement can affect everything, including employee satisfaction, productivity, employee turnover rates to brand reputation. 

Research conducted by the University of Warwick studied the relationship between happy employees and productivity. Economists found that happiness can translate to a 12% increase in productivity at work. Other research notes the jump can be much higher — Google invested in employee support and saw productivity rise by 37%.  

A 2022 McKinsey study looked specifically at the turnover rate in the retail industry and discovered it’s 70% higher than in other industries. 

It’s simple — happy employees are more productive and loyal. This means they are more likely to contribute significantly to creating positive shopping experiences for your customers. In short, having happy, engaged employees is a win-win. 

Causes of poor employee engagement in retail

There can be multiple causes for poor employee engagement in retail. Many workers spend most of their shift on their feet, and low pay — and poor management — are also common. Additionally, long shifts and a lack of autonomy can all take a serious toll on employee motivation and morale. 

If you’re struggling with low or lackluster engagement, take a look at the working environment you offer to see if you’re committing any of the following offenses:

  • Inconsistent work schedules: Retail is notorious for changing schedules, making it hard for workers to plan or challenging for them to get into a routine. This employee experience can often lead to dissatisfaction, which results in disengagement. 
  • Poor management or toxic leadership: Effective leadership skills don’t come naturally to everyone. Ensure your management team is well-trained and feels adequately supported in their roles so they can confidently and appropriately offer support to employees. 
  • Low pay compared to your competitors: Fair pay is necessary in today’s corporate landscape. You know what your competition pays — your employees do, too. If you want to keep people engaged, you need to be willing to pay them what they’re worth. 
  • Long hours with no breaks: Despite legal regulation that’s in place to ensure workers get time off and breaks as needed, too often in retail, people are expected to work long hours. Make sure your break and overtime policies are fair and enforced. 
  • Lack of autonomy: People who don’t feel in control of their environment or schedules are more likely to burn out and disengage — or, worse, quit altogether. According to research, almost 80% of employees surveyed will be more engaged when they’re given autonomy. 
  • Physically demanding shifts: Retail can be demanding, emotionally and physically. Be cognizant of the work expected of your employees so they feel seen and heard — which is vital to their level of engagement. 
  • High turnover rates that result in low morale: High retail turnover rates are costly when you have to spend money on training new people. A revolving door of employees coming and going can also damage morale. Poor employee retention thwarts bonding and camaraderie, and affects energy and engagement in the workplace. 

How to improve engagement among retail employees

Fortunately, if you’ve got a workforce that suffers from low engagement, there are simple and effective tactics you can use to boost the employee experience, employee morale, and job satisfaction. 

Check out the following retail employee engagement ideas, proven to work and easy to implement in your retail environment. 

1. Solicit feedback (often)

Asking for feedback is a great way to gauge where your employees feel unsupported. Then, you can come up with ideas to improve employee communication, morale, and engagement. Listening is powerful and often the most straightforward way to make people feel valued. Reinforce the idea that you hear your employees’ thoughts and concerns and are willing to make improvements where necessary.

2. Offer bonding opportunities

Team building activities offer an opportunity to bond, leading to a more engaged, cooperative, and productive work environment. 

Whether through a company dinner, picnic, or something fun, like an escape room challenge, getting your team together outside of work lets people connect on a personal level that can foster unity and commitment.

3. Support wellness

Retail is demanding, and as we’ve seen, those demands can quickly lead to burnout and job dissatisfaction. Prioritizing employee mental wellness — like what Talkspace’s online therapy platform can offer — can be a game-changer that improves more than just mental health in retail; it can also boost engagement.  

4. Promote physical wellness

While we often emphasize mental well-being, physical fitness also plays an integral role in employee happiness. 

You can encourage physical wellness through company-sponsored gym memberships, team sporting events, like softball games or marathons, or by doing anything that helps people stay fit and physically active — which we know from research boosts mood and energy levels, both of which are good for engagement.

5. Ensure work-life balance

Work-life balance for employees is essential in the retail sector, where inconsistent schedules, late nights, and weekend work hours can lead to job dissatisfaction and low employee retention. To counter the effects of demanding work schedules, emphasize balance for your workforce. Try implementing flexible scheduling options that show you respect employees’ time.

6. Manage absences

Effective absence management will ensure that the employees on the floor aren’t overwhelmed due to a lack of support during any shift. While unpredictable sick days are unavoidable, having a system that allows you to approve and cover time off in advance means people who show up for a shift are less likely to be overstressed.

7. Have an open communication policy

Open employee communication is a key component in creating an engaged workforce. When people feel like they can come to leadership with concerns or problems, they’re more likely to be willing to try to resolve issues before they get to a breaking point.

8. Recognize effort and offer reward

Recognizing effort and rewarding those who go above and beyond can motivate people to do their best in their retail roles. Beyond that, employee recognition can reduce turnover rates and increase job satisfaction. According to some research, companies with high employee recognition plans have 31% less turnover. 

9. Make sure communication is mobile-friendly

Retail jobs are inherently on-the-go positions that offer little to no desk time. Because of this, relying on team communication via email or desktop apps generally isn’t the most effective solution. Instead, use mobile apps that allow employees to access information on the fly and mid-shift from their mobile devices.

10. Have a well-stocked break room

The power of snacks cannot be underestimated. Offering free and easy-to-grab tasty treats throughout a shift can be a welcome respite from grueling or extended hours — bonus if you provide delicious treats that are also healthy.

Support wellness for better employee engagement

When you try to support emotional well-being, you show the people who work for you that you value more than just how many products they sell. You’re letting them know that you care about their mental well-being and are willing to offer resources encouraging them to be serious about their emotional health.

Talkspace offers affordable, accessible online therapy for retail workers that can make a big difference in the lives of any retail employee. When you partner with Talkspace to provide mental health support, you’re doing much more than just improving emotional well-being; you’re establishing relationships with the people who mean the most to your business. Showing you care is the best way you can increase engagement. 

Contact us today to learn how to engage retail employees with Talkspace.


  1. “Annual Average Total Separations Rates by Industry and Region, Not Seasonally Adjusted.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 8, 2023.
  2. Kalinienė, Gintarė, Dalia Lukšienė, Rūta Ustinavičienė, Lina Škėmienė, and Vidmantas Januškevičius. “The Burnout Syndrome among Women Working in the Retail Network in Associations with Psychosocial Work Environment Factors.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 18, no. 11 (2021): 5603.
  3. Oswald, Andrew J., Eugenio Proto, and Daniel Sgroi. “Happiness and Productivity.” The Warwick Research Archive Portal (WRAP), 2015.  
  4.  Fuller, David, Bryan Logan, Pollo Suarez, and Aneliya Valkova. “How Retailers Can Attract and Retain Frontline Talent amid the Great Attrition.” McKinsey & Company, August 17, 2022.  
  5. Radhika. “Employee Autonomy at Work: The Catalyst to Effective Employee Engagement.” CultureMonkey, September 12, 2023.  
  6. Basso, Julia C., and Wendy A. Suzuki. “The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review.” Brain Plasticity 2, no. 2 (2017): 127–52.  
  7. “Becoming Irresistible: A New Model for Employee Engagement.” Deloitte Insights, January 17, 2015.

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