Covid-19: Six ways to lift staff morale in these testing times

As the retail industry navigates through the Covid-19 storm, a concerted effort to raise and maintain staff morale is vital. This will require the proper understanding and acknowledgment of the emotional and physical toll the coronavirus pandemic is having on the retail workforce.

The new pressures being felt by retail workers in stores that remain open during the crisis are multi-fold. With many employees self-isolating at home, a number of stores have been forced on occasions to operate with reduced staffing. At the same time, some stores have experienced record sales; for example, Tesco reported that its UK sales rose 30% in the first few weeks of the pandemic.

While recent recruitment drives may have eased the pressure on staff numbers, retail workers still remain under considerable strain. The requirement to adhere to and enforce social distancing rules and work with wildly fluctuating levels of stock has forced employees to be flexible and work in new and uncomfortable ways. Understandably, large numbers of staff may feel nervous and disheartened about going in to work every day under these conditions. So how should retailers respond in order to keep staff morale high during this uniquely challenging period?

1. Ensure the team stays connected 

One of the biggest challenges the current climate has thrown at retailers is around enforcing social distancing. And not just between customers, but also colleagues. Voice communication technology is playing a major role in enabling many retail staff to stay in contact across a shared channel, even when physically separated. It enables colleagues to constantly feel close and connected while having to manage customers at the store entrance, queues at tills and maintaining stock on shelves.

The shop floor can quite often feel like a lonely place in some retail environments and now more so than ever. With footfall restricted in all stores and some supermarkets operating a one customer per trolley policy, there’s a distinctive hush across many open stores. Workers will now more than ever be looking for ways of interacting with colleagues and bosses should be encouraging safe forms of communication wherever possible to raise morale.

2. Provide clear and regular communication

Good communication is essential in keeping morale high. Managers should ensure team meetings take place regularly and always be transparent over staff expectations to prevent confusion and stress. This is especially important in this crisis environment where employees are now being asked to work in new areas. For example, those normally stationed in the stock room are being put onto tills, while others who are used to working on checkouts may be asked to restock shelves. With employees increasingly expected to become a jack-of-all-trades, they need to be well informed and up-to-speed on store procedures and current stock levels; something else voice communications technology can assist with. This will prevent employees constantly questioning themselves and reduce stress levels.

3. Keep supporting services running smoothly

To reduce demand on employees, ensure solutions and services like self-scan checkouts and click & collect services are functioning well. A common criticism of click & collect is that colleagues have to walk to the booth and find the order before going back inside the store to collect the order and then bring it back to the customer. Equally, with self-checkout, there are issues around colleagues’ safety if they are constantly having to walk up to people to look at IDs or check items that weren’t in the bagging area. Make sure any process changes to these store areas are monitored and that any problems swiftly rectified to ease the pressure on staff.

4. Prioritise cleanliness and hygiene

Create a safe and healthy environment to raise employees’ confidence that everything is being done to protect them from contacting coronavirus. You need to ensure staff are not working with contaminated kit, are not being exposed unnecessarily and are getting regular breaks. Make sure teams have easy access to necessities like hand sanitiser and that there are enough stations around the store where people can wash their hands. Employees should be given enough uniforms so they can wear a clean uniform every day or provisions made where possible to relax dress codes.  

5. Take care of employees staying at home

Don’t overlook the importance of maintaining the morale of those employees who have been furloughed or are currently staying at home. Now is the time to take measures to prevent them feeling sidelined or disconnected from the rest of the team. Think about what staff training you could be doing online and what else will keep people feeling valued members of the team.

Financially supporting employees experiencing hardship plays a large part in this. For example, Asda has announced it will provide full pay to colleagues who have been identified by the Government as needing to self-isolate for 12 weeks. It will also offer fully paid leave to colleagues who are vulnerable – or are the carers of extremely vulnerable people. Look after employees during this difficult time to ensure that when they do return to work, they have high levels of morale and motivation. 

6. Supporting those on the retail frontline

Over recent weeks there has been an overwhelming groundswell of support for NHS workers who are most at risk from the virus, and rightly so. However, we should also recognise the contribution of those working at the retail frontline. By demonstrating to retail employees that they are protected and valued and taking steps to keep them informed and connected despite social distancing restrictions, retailers can ensure staff morale is maintained and workers stay happy and productive. Putting in the right processes and technology now can bring immediate benefits that will last through the current uncertain period and far beyond.

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