12 tips to boost employee morale in retail during the holidays

Holiday season isn’t always rosy for everyone. For some, the holidays are difficult for a number of personal reasons, while others find work the primary stressor. Many businesses and their retail employees find the holidays can be one of the most difficult times of the year. Around this time of year, employee turnover routinely lands at 60%

Knowing how to boost employee morale in retail during this season is an important way to curb holiday woes. With our help, you can keep turnover low and overall satisfaction high

Here, we’re going to let you know the cause of low employee morale in retail during the holiday season, why it’s important to still encourage and motivate your employees to prevent burnout, and 12 tips to boost employee morale. 

What’s the impact of holiday stress in retail?

There’s no doubt about it: retail workers are the MVPs of the holiday season.

Holiday shopping is a special, particular kind of beast. Food always plays a key role, so grocery stores are packed. Depending on the holiday, buyers are trying to shop for gifts for family members, employees, friends, and whomever else is on their to-buy list. Businesses and their employees are accommodating all sorts of requests (and sometimes rude demands) to make sure customers and guests have a memorable holiday season. 

For the most part, any peak shopping period during the year is going to have an impact on retail workers. These can be big sales events (think Black Friday), or pre-holiday weekends when people need to stock up on food items, like the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, or even the Super Bowl. Providing customers and guests with great service is a year-round need. 

Over time, employee morale has eroded because of stress in retail. According to a survey conducted by Jobcase, 62% of employees are concerned about their physical safety and mental health (we’re looking at you, Black Friday). It’s been a minute since a new viral clip of customers stampeding into a store during a peak holiday sale, knocking down products along the way, but those visuals are some retail employees’ reality. 

What causes low employee morale in retail during the holidays

Working during the holidays inevitably comes with stressors that are the nature of the job. Retail is among the careers with the highest stress levels, which we sometimes forget about when going into a store. Added to that were a few years of uneasy and unpredictable living and stress due to the global pandemic that shifted how employees did their jobs in retail.

Common causes of low employee morale during the holidays 

  • Unpredictable, chaotic work environment
  • Conflict in the workplace
  • Demanding customers
  • Extended store hours
  • Managing personal obligations with shifts
  • Being scheduled during special occasions

Often, the stress of the workplace during the holiday season can feel insurmountable. Poor leadership, angry customers, and seemingly no end in sight, retail employees can feel trapped, and their motivation can dip. Low morale can lead to a number of problems for your employees from how they feel at work to how they perform their tasks. 

Low employee morale in retail during holidays looks like:

  • Apathy. Employees experiencing low morale in the workplace are likely to take their responsibilities less seriously. They may not be as caring or work with the same attention to detail they normally do.
  • Tiredness. A lack of mental healthy clarity and safety can lead to feeling sluggish and depleted of energy. This can range from moving more slowly to even nodding off on shift.
  • Confusion and lack of focus. Remaining on task can be difficult if you’re not in a great headspace. Employees might forget a regular’s order, bring someone the wrong size, or forget to routinely check a customer’s brake lights. 
  • Aggression. There’s a higher risk of conflict without resolution if an employee has low morale. This can lead to an increase in disputes with other employees.  managers, or even customers.
  • Burnout. True burnout looks and feels like everything mentioned above, with a distinct difficulty to feel motivated in the workplace. It could result in someone not showing up for shifts, talking back to customers or co-workers, or the ultimate bad result: quitting

How to prevent retail employee burnout and boost employee morale in retail during the holidays

Retail employee burnout is like any other burnout you may feel from your personal or professional life. Burnout is a very real and serious condition, and something you don’t want any of your employees to endure. Burnout can be caused by a number of different issues or may be the result of one, large point of concern—it all depends on the person. 

Common causes of employee burnout

  • Long hours with low wages. Employees feel taken advantage of when they work for long hours with little to no pay increase. This is especially prevalent if teams don’t have a liveable wage, aren’t paid fairly, or get promoted without a rate increase
  • Overworked without recognition. If you’ve got people working long hours coupled with a lack of recognition for that time and effort, you’re in trouble. Working without recognition wears down an employee’s sense of purpose and self in the workplace.
  • Poor leadership and loss of trust. Bad management, a lack of communication, and even microaggressive or passive-aggressive leadership styles can deplete a retail employee in the workplace.
  • Lack of guidance. Employees who don’t know how or feel confident doing their jobs aren’t just bad for business. Not knowing how to do your job and do it well can cause anxiety and unnecessary stress on any retail employee. 
  • Lack of safety. Demanding and aggressive customers. Sub-par training protocols. A lack of acceptance of diversity. These are all sure fire ways for a team member to feel unsafe. 

5 ways to prevent retail employee burnout during the holidays

Don’t worry: it’s not all bad news. Burnout can be prevented, and even managed after severe cases. The first step to help ease burnout symptoms is to acknowledge it’s a real thing that can happen in the workplace, and everyone is going to be affected by it. 

Here are some ways to prevent and manage retail employee burnout.

Provide a living wage

Of all the stressors that occur in the workplace, fair pay is always near the top. 

Many hourly workers worry regularly about being able to make rent or pay for childcare. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 400,000 U.S. workers have more than one full-time job. Hourly and shift positions across the U.S. vary in minimum wage and pay, with some that pay a much better living wage, and others that don’t. 

That living wage has a profound effect on your employees. When they’re not worrying about how they’re going to pay for groceries, they’re more productive and happier at work. When corporate giant Walmart increased their hourly pay to $10 in 2015, the chain saw their sales figures increase by $5 billion during the next 6 months. We’re guessing that both employees and management was pretty thrilled.

Your employees need to be able to live off of the work that they do, and deserve transparent pay, with opportunities for promotions and raises.

Be consistent in shift scheduling

Unpredictable work hours can cause undue stress for retail employees, leading to burnout symptoms like being unfocused or tired at work. An easy way to help? Give your employees consistent shifts so they can plan their life and work around each other. Not only is this easier on you when creating a team schedule, it promotes work-life balance (an important burnout tip we’ll get to), and helps your team focus more at work. 

Give vocal and consistent employee recognition

Your employees work hard and they deserve to know when they’ve done a good job. Studies have shown that even small and fairly consistent employee recognition can have a big boost in morale and help keep your best team members. And it doesn’t need to be hard: use a workplace tool like Homebase to make it easy to give shoutouts to your team. It’s a small, but important step.

Ensure team members feel heard and recognized

Employees want to feel like they have a say in their workplace. This is an often overlooked way of easing the burden of burnout symptoms. Provide space for feedback and integrate that feedback into actions at work to help boost morale. 

Promote a work-life balance

Believe it or not, your business isn’t the most important thing in your employee’s lives. They have personal obligations and need time to rest as well, especially during the holidays. If you’re preventing your team from enjoying a little downtime with their own friends and family, you’re definitely going to see a drop in morale.

A 2022 McKinsey report titled How retailers can attract and retain frontline talent amid the Great Attrition asked the question: “Can retailers create a more flexible workplace for store staff?”

The answer? A resounding yes. 

“The best frontline retail employers are innovating to do so—for example, by offering shift swapping among peers and more autonomy for employees to decide what role they would like to play in the store on any given day.”

Promoting a flexible work-life balance can actually help your employees be more productive and focused, because there’s a clear distinction between their home and work life. Exemplify and prioritize this balance with a good paid time off (PTO) policy to help prevent burnout.

The importance of motivation to boost employee morale in retail 

Your retail employees are the ambassadors of your business. So it’s important to keep your team involved, motivated, and productive at work. Your employees may not be as invested in the overall growth and success of the business in the same way you are, but they are invested in keeping the business running: they want a job, and a paycheck. 

On average, we spend about 34 hours a week of our lives at work. It’s a substantial part of life, and if your employees dread going in, it’s going to be apparent to customers and clients. There’s a difference between having difficult moments at work and being at a job that’s actively causing stress and discomfort. 

If your retail employees are experiencing burnout, there’s a higher chance of turnover.Turnover isn’t just annoying; it’s expensive. It costs an average of $4,000 per employee, and takes almost a month to hire someone new—money you don’t want to spend. Plus, posting job descriptions, conducting interviews, completing training… it’s all time consuming, and takes you away from growing your business.

Burnout and depleted morale among retail employees impacts everyone: managers, other employees, customers, and the overall state of your business. 

12 tips to boost employee morale in retail

How to boost the morale of your retail employees really depends on personalities, workplace vibe, and everyone’s personal comfort levels. 

Luckily, no matter what your workplace culture is like, we’ve got  a few tried and true ways to help foster trust and happiness in your retail employees during a stressful holiday season.  

1. Be open in your communication

This can’t be said enough: communicate, communicate, communicate. Share your business needs, goals, news, and anything else relevant to your employees to ensure they’re well-prepared for their shifts. An easy way to do this is to ensure you’ve got a great team communication app, like Homebase. It lets you share shift notes, talk to dedicated groups or the whole team, and even schedule team meetings.

Dedicated check-ins with employees go a long way to help your team members:

  • Feel taken care of and knowledgeable about the business
  • Know they can come to you because you’ll have the answers 
  • Keep up with the tasks that need to be accomplished

2. Foster a safe work environment

Customers can take a toll on retail employees—especially during hectic holiday rushes. The same can be true for other employees working with each other. Take a zero tolerance approach to any negative or aggressive behavior in the workplace so that employees can show up feeling safe. Put a policy in place that ensures antagonistic behavior won’t be tolerated. Have all your employees review it and sign off on it when they receive their digital welcome package, and make updates as needed.

Promoting employee feedback and transparency can help foster safety at work for employees. If your retail team members know that through these actions and policies they can confide in you, or feel comforted that you’ll act on their behalf, this helps alleviate any stressors or turmoil.

3. Prioritize breaks

Be diligent about scheduling breaks and ensuring your retail employees are taking them. The holidays can be busy times, but your team’s wellbeing isn’t worth selling an extra pack of 4th of July hotdogs or a pumpkin pie. Keep an eye on who should be taking breaks and when. Make sure you know when breaks are paid and unpaid so you can operate within your state’s compliance laws. Using a digital time clock can go a long way here to avoid having to mentally keep track.

4. Play games and reward hard work 

The holidays are the perfect time to gamifying work for your team. Set goals to sell certain items or services, promote some healthy competition, and keep things light. Tie challenges to specific work tasks or daily or weekly revenue goals to keep things relevant, but don’t shy away from some fun ones as well (who can come up with a new back-to-school promo? Who makes the best Chanukah cocktail?) Get your employees motivated and excited by adding some financial compensation or a big prize for winning, like time off, a pay bonus, or a free meal. 

When employees are working toward something other than just their work tasks, they become highly motivated. Especially when there’s something fun like a trip, paid time off, or additional money on the line. 

5. Make employee recognition part of your culture

Employee recognition and celebration is one way to prevent burnout, but it’s also a very easy and beneficial way to keep retail employees happy at their jobs overall. Celebrating employees only every so often instead of on the regular might not make that much of an impact. Create a recognition program that has clear parameters for success and what that success leads to on the other side, like points that go toward a prize or time off. Having a strong recognition program can go a long way to creating a positive company culture where your team is happy, fulfilled, and productive.

During the holiday season, it may be fun to put a twist on an employee recognition program that measures impact specifically during that sales period. Maybe you run a Secret Santa during the holiday season where employees call out a co-workers’ win from the week, or a summer special shoutout every Friday to the employee with the best customer service, giving them a small prize or sash to wear during meetings. Have fun with it, no matter what or how you choose to celebrate and recognize all of the hard work your employees do. 

6. Invest in employee growth and development (especially during the holiday season)

It’s all too easy to put off employee growth and development during busy holiday seasons. It’s more likely you’re focused on business goals and revenue, stock, and getting through the season instead of thinking about how to help your employees grow in their role. 

It’s not an ‘either/or’. Both of these things can occur during the holiday season. If you have an employee who has asked for more responsibility in the role, or would like to be promoted to say, a managerial position, the holiday season is actually the perfect time. With increased shopping happening, you can use the extra help more than ever, so put them to work on some trial shifts. Or, ask someone with initiative to develop the sales promos happening that month and draw up projected revenue plans.

Waiting for slow periods to train and develop your employees does them—and youa disservice. During busy periods, they get to learn real-time how to solve problems and work toward the business’s goals, and you get some extra hands on deck. 

7. Train managers on how to cultivate a healthy workplace

Your employees’ motivation needs to be anchored by managers and other senior leaders in your business. Train your managers on healthy conflict resolution tactics, management styles, and how to connect with employees. Demonstrate how to be diverse and compassionate, and why it’s important to embrace employee feedback rather than be stubborn about it. 

8. Be transparent 

There’s an important professional line that needs to be kept between you and your retail employees. But what if you’re transparent and honest with them about the toll the holiday season takes on you

There’s a mutual vulnerability and respect that comes from admitting to your employees that the holiday season is difficult on everyone, not just those on the floor doing the day-to-day tasks. Trust and a strengthened bond can be nurtured here. Remind your employees that while they can count on you to help them through tough or stressful situations, you also have vulnerabilities. Keep your professional boundaries—those are equally important—but lean into fostering a deeper, more honest relationship with your retail employees. 

9. Let employees take the reins

You work in retail, so you know what holiday music can do to you. Music is a fun way to give your employees more autonomy and trust, as well as taking something else off your plate. If you don’t already have your team in charge of the music, it’s time to hand over the Spotify password. Within your brand personality, have them mix it up. Employees will enjoy work a lot more if they’re listening to something that motivates them and puts them in a fun mood The holidays are the perfect time to make things a little more playful with nostalgic hits, or maybe class things up with instrumental versions of your favorite songs. 

Don’t skimp on giving junior employees a chance either. After closing hours during inventory, restocks, or clean-up is the perfect time for them to throw on a sing-a-long or totally off-brand playlist they’ve been working weeks on. With the right holiday tunes, work becomes that much more pleasurable. 

10. Be inclusive and embrace diversity 

The holiday season isn’t a one-size fits all for everyone. Your retail employees are diverse and have different lived experiences. Honor if some celebrate different holidays than others, or don’t celebrate at all. The more inclusive you are and compassionate towards who your retail employees are outside of the workplace, the better they feel coming into work as their whole selves. 

11. Organize a social gathering before or after the holiday season

Nothing helps increase joy in the workplace quite like celebrating after a long, hard holiday season. Take your employees out for dinner or organize a party before or after peak holiday selling. Social gatherings help employees deflate, commiserate, and bond with each other. These acts nurture relationships that aren’t strictly within the world of the workplace. 

12. Make boosting employee morale a year-round thing

It’s going to seem insincere if you’re prioritizing employee morale during one specific period of time. Make sure to follow these tips and more to keep your retail employees happy all-year round. Tailor some games, tools, or social gatherings to the holiday season, but remain open and transparent throughout the year on how to keep your employees happy and healthy. 

Improve your retail team’s morale with Homebase 

Homebase is an excellent tool for retail managers to use to help boost employee morale in retail, and work to keep burnout at bay. 

During peak and holiday seasons, use Homebase to:

  • Keep employee schedules up-to-date. Retail employees will definitely need to submit time off requests far in advance if they know they have other holidays plans so you can keep your business staffed properly.
  • Advance employee pay. Give your employees access to pay before their regular pay day if they need it. This comes in handy during the typically pricey holiday season, and ensures your staff can buy a flight home for the holidays if they need to or buy gifts for friends and family.
  • Employee recognition. Track employee performance, birthdays,  work anniversaries, or any wins at work so you can celebrate with them
  • Send your staff a holiday note. Adding some play goes a long way with employees: remind they it’s not all work and wish your retail employees well during the holidays via the app’s built-in messenger 

During the chaos of peak buying seasons, let Homebase be your shelter in the storm. Automate, notify, and optimize your employee recognition, scheduling, and payroll for you and your retail employees. The result? Keeping them—and your business—successful and growing. 

Don’t let the holidays turn you into a grinch when it comes to scheduling, payroll, and motivating your employees. Boost your retail employees’ morale during the holiday season with Homebases’s employee happiness tools. Get started today for free.

Boosting employee morale in retail FAQ

What’s the impact of holiday stress in retail?

Retail employee morale drops because of holiday stress in the workplace. Some noticeable impacts include: burnout, apathy, and high employee turnover. The overall state and stability of a business is affected if employees are unhappy and unmotivated. 

What causes low morale in retail?

Some common causes of low employee morale include an unpredictable, chaotic work environment, conflict among team members in the workplace, and a high-volume of demanding customers.

How can businesses boost employee morale in retail?

Businesses can boost employee morale in retail by providing shift stability, fair and transparent pay, listening to employees and integrating feedback, ensuring the workplace is a safe and happy place to be, and being generous with recognition when employees are exemplary at performing their tasks.

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