Employee engagement is a hot topic, but it isn’t one of those “ fluffy human resource terms,” says Eddie LeMoine, a Calgary-based author and expert on employee engagement. “It has very positive results in productivity, cost containment and profitability.” A 2014 study by Queens University and Aon Hewitt found that organizations with the most engaged employees achieve 65% greater share-price increase, 26% less employee turnover, 20% less absenteeism, 15% greater employee productivity and up to 30% greater customer satisfaction levels.
While definitions of employee engagement vary, for LeMoine it’s about inclusion and co-creation, and everyone working together on a common goal. “You’re trying to leverage the individual strengths of the employees and align them with the goals of the organization,” he says.
Practically speaking, that means employers must have conversations with individual employees, identify what they’d like to do in the organization, and see where that can dovetail with company goals. “That’s when the magic happens,” says LeMoine. “That’s when employees become more productive, work harder and recommend their company as a place to do business.”
For Newfoundland grocery chain Colemans, an important employee engagement tool is its “People of Potential” program, which identifies staff members who might be considering a career in the grocery industry. A cashier, for example, may want to receive training to work in a department. “If we see a person of potential, we may ask if they’re interested in becoming a meat cutter or a baker,” says Janet Joyce, director of human resources at Coleman Group of Companies.
Employees who are selected to move up are then placed on a “trade” pay scale for training. Joyce says the scale has quick increases, which shows employees the opportunities that are available with the acquisition of specialized skills. “It could be the difference between topping out at $12.50 per hour and topping out at $17.50,” she says. “It’s aggressive and they can see they’re making their way along to a career. It’s worked really well for us.”
Eddy Ng, professor and F.C. Manning chair in economics and business at Dalhousie University’s Rowe School of Business, says it’s critical to provide staff with a sense of purpose or meaning. “It’s not so much about the pay—that is very external,” he says. “It’s about intrinsic motivation—something you draw from within yourself. You feel that your job is part of something bigger and you see how your job fits into the big picture.” In a grocery environment, that could mean bakers knowing what percentage of store sales their products contribute to, or knowing that their breads have a reputation for being the best in town. A produce manager could also have influence over where and how their foods are sourced to meet increasing consumer appetite for locally and sustainably grown produce. “They want to see that what they do is meaningful and has an impact,” says Ng.
Rewards and recognition also go a long way toward boosting engagement. Colemans has a program called Culture Club, whereby store employees start off with a black name tag, and can move up to bronze, silver, gold, platinum and platinum plus if they contribute positively to the store’s culture. If an employee receives a glowing customer testimonial, scores 100% on a mystery shop, or has an innovative idea, they rise to the next level and their name tag will change colour. Each time an employee moves up, they receive a letter acknowledging their contribution and a $25 gift card.
While everyone likes to be recognized, retailers also need to tailor engagement strategies to the different age demographics in their workforce. Today, store employees run the gamut from gen-Zers all the way to seniors. “You can’t use the same motivator for everyone and assume it’s going to work,” says Bruce Winder, co-founder and partner of Retail Advisors Network. “If you’re a baby boomer or a gen-Xer you might be motivated by money, but also by empowerment, title and responsibility.” For younger workers, particularly students, flexible time or an education allowance might be more of an incentive.
When it comes to recruitment strategies, generational differences should also be kept in mind. To attract younger workers, grocers need to shake the perception that working in a supermarket is just a job and not a career, says Ng. “They have to move away from saying, ‘We’re offering you a job at a grocery store’ to ‘We’re offering you a career as a professional baker or professional butcher,’” he says. “By making it more professional, it will appeal to millennials in the sense that they’re doing something interesting. They want to see their work as being meaningful as opposed to one that pays well.”
This article originally appeared in the July issue of Canadian Grocer.