New data has revealed that Australian retailers are failing to make the most of their workforce.

Mercer’s What’s Working survey conducted in early 2011 found that only 41.9 per cent of respondents from the retail sector felt their organisation did a good job of retaining its most talented people, and for the 70.9 per cent of respondents who held a non-management position, less than half felt their manager played an active role in their personal career development. 

Rob Bebbington, Mercer’s human capital business leader for Australia and New Zealand, says retailers are fighting to maintain growth and competing within tough price wars are failing to appreciate their key selling point: customer service. 

“Happy staff means happy customers. Without properly engaging with current workers and providing employees with adequate career opportunities, any hope for growth will be thwarted by disengagement and apathy and will ultimately impact retailer’s bottom line,” he said.

“No longer can retailers compete on price alone – instead they need to look to their staff and their service levels to help them step ahead of the crowd.  Failing to engage with workers and provide adequate motivation at work is a risk most retailers cannot afford to take. 

“To combat this growing issue employers need to understand what motivates their workforce and apply a strategy that incorporates innovative ideas to help improve engagement, performance and productivity.”

The study also showed less than half of respondents have been part of a formal review in the past 12 months. Furthermore, over half (52 per cent) don’t feel senior management are doing a good job of confronting issues before they become major problems, and 49.8 per cent don’t trust management to communicate honestly.

With Christmas looming, bigger sales targets will only increase pressure on employees to perform. Bebbington says the following five tips may be a good starting point for retail managers to motivate staff and increase productivity in the lead up to a busy festivity season:

1.    Ask employees for suggestions – let them comment anonymously through a suggestion box. Read employee suggestions regularly, and implement any logical ideas the company can afford.
2.    Cross-train – helping to develop the skills of all employees and raise engagement within the organisation. Workers may feel more enthusiastic towards their role or decide to utilise these new skills for an alternative position within the organisation, increasing staff retention.
3.    Find ways to reward employees through recognition – make this meaningful by adding an extra day off, a gift certificate or an inexpensive gift.
4.    Present company challenges publicly when possible – helping to improve internal communication and allows workers the opportunity to suggest potential solutions.
5.    Provide all employees regular feedback – this should include job performance, providing an opportunity to self critique areas for improvement. By allowing employees to set individual goals organisations will see an increase in their motivation to achieve them.