In any retail environment, a happy sales staff makes for more pleasant workdays. But it’s also good for business. Healthy staff morale “clearly impacts productivity, profitability, customer service, turnover, and theft,” says David Javitch, president of business consulting firm Javitch Associates. “Happy workers tend to be more productive. If morale is high, employees feel that the boss cares about them and cares about the quality of the work they’re doing. The higher those things are, the higher the profitability and worker-customer satisfaction.”
But the road to high spirits is paved with misconceptions, says Bob Nelson, author of 1,501 Ways to Reward Employees. The biggest, he says, is the idea that morale would improve if only retailers paid their employees more. When creating a culture of engagement, a higher hourly rate doesn’t necessarily result in increased employee satisfaction. Instead, Nelson suggests creating “an experience to help bond the group together. Those are the things that mean the most to employees. Thirty percent of good ideas don’t cost an owner a dime.”
Consider taking staffers to a movie lunch, bringing in a masseuse to dispense 30-minute massages, or hosting a potluck dinner at your home, says Nelson. “Something fun and food always works,” adds Javitch.
If after-work perks aren’t your style, don’t overlook the many day-to-day opportunities to make employees feel special. “Asking someone their opinion is a big motivator,” says Nelson. As is “supporting [them] when they make a mistake and involving them in a decision that affects them,” he adds.
Javitch concurs: “The number one motivator is recognizing successful or positive work habits, recognizing positive customer interaction and assistance, and recognizing employee achievement.”
Both experts agree that bonuses are short-term morale boosters. But if used, Javitch suggests they be accompanied by “opportunities for employees to feel that they’re being recognized for doing good work.”
According to employee engagement specialist David Zinger, the biggest misconception about boosting morale is “that it’s something you have to do outside of work. If you and the staff go for a drink or have a barbecue, that’s fine. That can be icing. But the cake is inside the work itself. It’s bringing a spirit of engagement and interaction, while building relationships.”
Zinger warns against dispensing arbitrary perks at the risk of seeming insensitive to your staffers. “I think having a little contest is a good way to break things up,” he says. “But it’s like if you give a doughnut to a dieter, that’s not going to be helpful. If you give a preferred parking spot to someone who takes a bus, that’s not going to be effective. If you are going to use perks, why not go to the staff and say, ‘Hey, what types of things do you want?’?”
Zinger’s trademark phrase The small is the new significant boils down to improving morale in small but meaningful ways. “Like touching base with each of your employees every day,” he says. “Sometimes we confuse small with being insignificant.”