Home Business & Industry The 5 Most Stressful Things about Working in Retail (and How Managers Can Avoid Them)

The 5 Most Stressful Things about Working in Retail (and How Managers Can Avoid Them)

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‘Retail work is so easy; the customers are so nice and the shifts just fly by,’ said nobody – ever. It’s well-documented that retail work is monotonous, exhausting and thankless, and even the most motivated employees will agree that there are parts of the job that are inescapably evil.

Here are the top six, along with the simplest ways managers can turn those employee grimaces back into smiles.

1. Customers who stay past closing

We’re not sure how there are so many people that don’t get the hint that when the music stops, the security grill starts closing and the lights are going off that’s it’s time to leave… and yet, it seems that there are at least a handful of these customers. Every. Single. Week.

Not only is this unbelievably frustrating for employees that have just worked a long shift and want to go home, it’s a waste of money for the store. Unless that customer ends up buying a significant amount of merchandise (we doubt it), the cost of keeping employees on the clock will far outweigh the financial benefits of letting latecomers complete a sale.

Nip this behaviour in the bud when it gets to about 15 minutes before closing by warning any customers ten that they need to finalise their purchases and go straight to the till. Explain that you close at X’o’clock (whenever that is) and that you won’t be able to process any transactions past that time (or try any one of these more passive-aggressive measures).

On the flip-side, make sure that your staff are properly paid for the close-down and any extra time they’re kept waiting by these customers.

2. The ‘clopen’ shift

That’s the one where whoever closed up the store in the evening has to be back, bright and early, to open up again the next day. It’s one thing if you close promptly at 5 or 6, but if you have late hours or host an event where employees don’t leave until much, much later, expecting them to tidy the shop, get home, eat, sleep, shower, eat, get back to the shop and start working in just a few short hours is unrealistic.

Irregular shifts come hand in hand with retail work and sometimes staffs will have to accept a duff shift or two. That said, there’s no excuse for consistently poor timetabling. Be conscientious about which staff tend to work the toughest hours and make sure you’re allocating them fairly. For example, make sure you’re not punishing your star employees by always giving them the most challenging shifts because you trust them.

You can even get dedicated software that takes the pain out of scheduling for all parties (such as Planday). Holiday requests, staff availability and the hours required in-store can all be plugged into one app, which then calculates the best rota for you. No more stressing over spreadsheets and scribbled leave requests.

3. Working holidays

Retail workers should accept that they’re going to have to work at least some bank holidays. Where it becomes an issue is when Jeff has been scheduled to work every single long weekend over the summer, but destiny (or more accurately, management) has allowed Lisa to have them off.

To limit the bad blood and Jeff’s inclination to mutiny, make sure you’re keeping your holiday scheduling fair. Some methods for doing this include:

  • Reminding staff about any perks they get for working holidays (extra pay, doughnuts, fancy dress, etc.)
  • Posting a volunteer sign-up sheet for anyone that wants to work a particular holiday
  • Employing an either/or rule, where staff must sign up for one of two holidays, for example, Christmas Eve or Boxing Day
  • Incompetent colleagues

The nature of retail work means that there are always a few people that don’t take it very seriously. Maybe they think they’re too good for the work, or only see it as a temporary stopgap between better things. Whatever the cause, there’s nothing worse than working with someone who doesn’t pull their weight and doesn’t care.

As a manager, it pays to be discerning with your hires. Even if you’re desperate for more staff, there’s no point hiring somebody with the wrong attitude. You’ll spend time and money training them, miss out on a more enthusiastic candidate and rile up your more capable staff by forcing them to pick up the slack – only to find yourself back at square one when the new hire doesn’t even make it through their probation period.

Check in with your current team about any weak spots they may have, and offer plenty of training, re- training and refresher sessions to keep everyone up to date with equipment and processes.

4. The customer being ‘always right’

The fact is, the customer is seldom right (as Larry David puts this, very eloquently). Bending over backwards for every stroppy customer that tried to return a damaged item outside of its warranty will only eat into your profits and the respect that your staff have for you.

To manage this, make sure you have fair but firm policy for discounts, returns, exchanges, damaged goods and complaints. Support your staff by backing them up in situations where the customer is well and truly in the wrong, and have a couple of ‘good faith’ measures that staff can use at their discretion (a small discount, a low-cost freebie or something similar) and go no further. Good customer service is important, but you don’t need to be a doormat.

5. No rewards for being an excellent member of staff

Sure, there are plenty of people who couldn’t care less about their retail job other than their salary.

This makes it all the more important to incentivise your staff so that good performances can be rewarded in some way. This could be as simple as having an ‘Employee of the Week’ board and recognising the improvers during staff meetings, or giving trustworthy members of staff more responsibility and development options.

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg. He is also the editor-in-chief of Psychreg Journal Psychology, and writes a weekly column for Free Malaysia Today


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