The retail sector was perhaps one of the most affected in terms of employee turnover within the last two years. From transitioning from brick-and-mortar, to eCommerce, to struggling with staff retention, retail business owners need to start isolating the gaps in their workflows. It’s time to notice if a toxic working culture could be the reason for their inability to adjust.  

The 2022 MIT Sloan Management Review study shows that “toxic corporate culture is the strongest predictor of industry-adjusted attrition.With this importance of retention in mind, what can you do to ensure your retail staff doesn’t end up working in a toxic culture?  

What are the signs of a toxic corporate culture?

To deal with toxic work culture, you must learn how to recognise it first. Some of the “red flags” include:   

  • A high employee turnover rate 
  • Frequent gossip, bullying, and grouping of employees (remote or in-office) 
  • Scattered, unclear, or common misunderstandings
  • Poor employee work-life balance 
  • No time off or inflexible schedules 
  • Poor leadership such as micromanaging 
  • Disrupted mental health and burnout 
  • Staff afraid of speaking up and stating their opinions 
  • No team spirit and unhealthy competition 

How to avoid a toxic culture in retail?

To prevent becoming part of the “high employee turnover” statistics, you need to do your best to avoid toxic culture at the workplace. Here are some ways to do that: 

toxic work culture

1. Encourage feedback and open communication

All employees, regardless of their rank or seniority, need to feel safe at work and free to communicate their opinions.  

Instead of “fear leadership”, try mutual understanding and looking at employees as your partners. If you lead with fear, employees can feel unsafe, unprotected, and most of all – unappreciated – leading to difficulties with retention.  

Here are some practical ways to promote open communication at the workplace: 

  • Conduct one-on-one meetings to give each employee space to tell you about their experience 
  • Avoid vertical hierarchies and stick to an open-door policy, allowing everyone to access management 
  • Try to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of each employee to direct their job role advancement accordingly 
  • Listen to your employees and give your best to solve their problems or make their work experience better 

2. Allow more scheduling flexibility

To build a retail employee scheduling strategy with flexibility in mind, we suggest letting your staff swap shifts, plan their own working hours, or work remotely if the job role allows it. 

Giving this type of autonomy to employees can improve their work-life balance. Your goal should be letting retail employees organise their job around their lives, not the other way around.  

On the other hand, avoid schedules that allow unpredictable reduced working hours. Work routines that change without notice are not sustainable long-term. 

3. Update your Diversity & Inclusion policy

If you can’t seem to get rid of a toxic workplace, the problem might be at the root – starting with the job ad. Perhaps, by writing a more inclusive job ad focused on diversity, you will attract talent that doesn’t lean towards toxic behaviour and is more suited to the culture and vision you aspire to reach.  

You can go one step further and improve the D&I policy by strictly forbidding any form of bullying or harassment at the workplace, physical or emotional.  

Your next step should be raising awareness and acceptance of employees based on their work skills, rather than their ethnicity, race, sex, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc. For a successful D&I policy, you’ll need to restructure and update all parts of the recruiting and onboarding processes.  

4. Set clear goals and expectations

toxic culture unhappy workers

Wish to design a positive work environment? Start by setting clearly defined goals, KPIs, and expectations for employees. People need goals as a means of motivation or something to look forward to.  

Without clear goals, employees will feel insecure in their performance and might misunderstand or misinterpret their job roles. Unclear structure at the workplace is stressful and anxious for staff, so relieve them from that burden by setting clear expectations and ways to measure upfront.  

Additionally, give your employees the tools they need to do their job properly, communicate, and reach their goals.  

5. Don’t prioritise customers over employees

Customer-centric businesses that completely disregard their employee satisfaction experienced a downfall during and post-pandemic times. Employees started leaving their jobs more than ever before. It became clear that the retail sector needs to switch from customer-centric to employee-centric.  

In retail, customer satisfaction is closely tied to employee satisfaction. Why would an employee go above and beyond for a customer if they’re unhappy with their job?  

A healthy work culture prioritizes employees, followed by existing customers, and then potential customers. Mix up the order of these three groups, and you’re creating a potentially toxic culture.  

6. Provide ongoing development opportunities

Retail employees today need more than just fair pay to be happy and feel fulfilled. They need to feel challenged and growing. Employees need to know that there’s space to grow within your company. Otherwise, they’ll search outside.  

People, in general, want to be pushed to the edge of their abilities and challenged in order to retain motivation and engagement. So, make your company a space where they can do exactly that: 

  • Take time to understand the career goal of each employee 
  • Encourage mentorship during onboarding or training 
  • Allow vertical career growth by posting new vacancies internally before publishing 
  • Provide job-related training, paid courses, or workshops 

Often, retail business owners are hesitant to invest in upgrading their employees’ skills out of fear that they will find something better and leave their current job. Unfortunately, this type of thinking results in a toxic culture where staff do not feel appreciated. 

By denying your employees the possibility to advance their skills, you won’t see better retention numbers. On the contrary, you’re likely to lose staff to a retail business that knows how to value them and put their skills to work. Always remember that a good corporate culture allows employees to grow and prosper in their career.  

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