In my opinion: employee recognition programmes that include seasonal staff can improve customer service in retail, says P&MM Motivation

John Sylvester, director at P&MM Motivation, claims retailers, and customer service, can benefit from rewarding seasonal and part-time staff


Sylvester: segmenting employee engagement strategies will produce the best results

Seasonal staffing churn is one of the biggest challenges the retail industry faces. As Christmas approaches, retailers are taking on thousands of temporary staff to see them through the Christmas rush and the January sales. This year the Christmas season will start in earnest on Black Friday, 27 November 2015 – last year consumers spent £810m1 online in the UK in one day on Black Friday. Retailers face the challenge of engaging seasonal staff and recognising high performers without creating friction among longer term staff. They are, understandably, questioning whether it is practical or worthwhile to create recognition and reward schemes among part-time and seasonal staff. Yet the benefits are clear.

If retailers focus on motivating individuals on short-term contracts they should see temporary staff getting up to speed quicker and more staff staying on until the end of their contract. It is both possible and necessary to foster employee loyalty and high performance in the seasonal workforce. The starting point should be effective and timely communications, beginning on the day each new temporary employee joins the company. Communicating effectively with staff in the very different environments of shop floor, warehouse and head office is already a challenge for many retailers. Head office staff will be able to access an online rewards portal easily but warehouse staff may benefit from a paper-based system.

Communications recognising staff achievement, informing them about the rewards on offer and even delivering the rewards themselves need to be clear, uncomplicated and timely. Line managers have a key role in ensuring new employees gain a clear understanding of the rewards available to them, so gaining their buy-in is essential to programme success. Line managers need autonomy to be able to give recognition on a daily basis, the tools to issue a simple thankyou or low level rewards such as gift cards relating to the retailer’s business. Fostering peer-to-peer recognition, encouraging employees to recognise desired behaviours in colleagues is also very effective.

Two-tier approach

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Retailers need to measure customer service levels

A two-tier approach can address the potential de-motivational effect on longer term staff of the busy Christmas period and the influx of short-term staff. Retailers such as John Lewis have successfully created loyalty among permanent employees by giving them a stake in the business and opportunities for training and progression. It is vital to create engagement at management level if managers are to support a positive culture amongst both their permanent employees and seasonal staff.

In contrast, tactical incentives work better for Christmas temps. For short-term employees, loyalty initiatives should come in accessible bite size chunks, rewarding employees for something achievable in the time period of employment. Frequent tactical incentives come into play to continue to drive high levels of customer service once the Christmas period is over and the January sales have started, when continued staff engagement is key – January sales totals can often top pre-Christmas sales.

For some retailers, longer term staff tend to be older, while Christmas temps are younger. The age gap between senior managers and young temporary staff seems to be getting wider, leading to communication, technology and cultural difficulties. Rewards and recognition initiatives should be tailored to the different generations of employees. Millennials, born since 1995, tend to be less motivated by financial reward than the older generations and respond well to a “thank you” in front of senior executives and peers. While older staff may respond more positively to rewards that save on cost of living expenses and will be pleased to receive a voucher from the retailer.

The influx of temporary staff can be an opportunity as well as a challenge for retailers as this intake often contains well-qualified and graduate level people who may be attracted to stay with the retailer if they are engaged effectively. In 2013 Amazon hired 10,000 temporary employees and offered permanent roles to 1,000 of them.2 This may go some way to mitigate the high costs of recruitment across the retail sector.

In order to reward employees it is important to be able to measure their performance. Retailers tend to focus on sales targets over the Christmas period, but they also need to measure customer service levels to protect their brand long term. There are simple methods of measurement available, such as a touchpad by the exit asking customers to rate service. Armed with this information retailers need to decide what behaviours to reward to improve service levels and this should inform training from day one for seasonal temps. In contrast, measuring warehouse staff performance may be based on data about shipment rates and deadlines met.

Retailers are experts in segmenting their customer base for marketing purposes. If this approach is applied to employee engagement strategies, relevant and appropriate rewards and recognition will produce the best results. Seasonal employees are usually motivated mainly be earning money over the Christmas period but they are also receptive to other forms of recognition from gift vouchers to time off. These techniques for showing appreciation can be more effective than simple monetary rewards as they create longer lasting memories associated with receiving the reward.

Here are some top tips for retailers approaching the issue of recognising and rewarding seasonal and part time staff:

  • Take immediate steps to implement simple rewards and recognition measures ahead of the Christmas intake of temps. This could be a simple automated system for texting “thank yous” for example or badge-based incentive schemes
  • In the long term, set out an ongoing rewards and recognition strategy before breaking that down into small chunks. Take into account the need to maintain motivation in the lull in sales that occurs in February and March
  • Create an organisation-wide culture of praise. This takes time but must underpin any reward and recognition strategy
  • Ensure that rewards and recognition are closely linked to measurable benchmarks, ideally real time reporting, so that initiatives can be tweaked to deliver the best possible results or to meet changing business priorities in an agile way
  • Use recognition programmes to unify the workforce and connect employees from the different areas of the business with the common aim of delivering good service and winning rewards.

Retailers need to take a long-term view of short-term requirements – for too long retailers have been reactive and lacked a strategic approach. There are immediate measures that retailers can take to address reward and recognition for this Christmas period – and now is the time to start collecting the management information that can inform a longer term strategy for rewarding and recognising employees next year and beyond.




About the author

John Sylvester is director at P&MM Motivation, an award winning performance improvement company specialising in reward and recognition within the retail sector.  Follow John on Twitter @johnsylvester

(A Retail Times’ sponsored article)