As the holiday shopping season begins, retailers from mall franchisees to grocery stores to specialty websites are spooling up for the busiest weeks of the year. It's a harried time for shoppers and shopkeepers alike, but look closely and you'll likely notice the people behind the counter at some retailers are in better spirits than others.
Great Place to Work recently analyzed 45,000 employee surveys to craft its list of the 2015 Best Workplaces in Retail. The winners span a range of businesses but share a common commitment to creating work environments that team members are proud to be associated with and that treat employees with respect.
As just one example, Build-A-Bear Workshop gives employees a boost at its stores this time of year with free lunches, prize drawings and other treats to alleviate the holiday pace. Employees say gestures like these – and the wider warmth of the business culture behind them – make a real difference. Ninety-five percent of Build-A-Bear’s employees report the retailer offers a caring work environment, and nearly as many say it's regularly a fun place to work. At no. 1 on the list, this national brand also makes deeper investments in employee well-being that include flexible scheduling and paid time off programs for both part-time and full-time staff.
Perhaps not surprisingly in a sector where pay for sales people averages $12.38 per hour, compensation is another area where the Best Workplaces stand out from their peers. Employees at the best retailers are 46 percent more likely to report they are paid fairly than those that didn’t make the rankings. Employees at these great companies also feel their employers provide superior benefits: 87 percent say their benefits are both special and unique, compared to just 64 percent among companies that didn't make the rankings.
Even with the razor-thin margins of a grocer, No. 2 employer Nugget Market pays 100 percent of employee health premiums, with personnel eligible at 22 hours per week. The company also matches 401(k) contributions and offers up to five weeks of paid vacation. While a substantial majority of people working for the Bay-Area stores say they're happy with the tangible rewards offered by the company, it's also important to consider that employees express a similar degree of enthusiasm for the company's management and communication practices. As our 30 years of research into high-trust workplaces has shown, building the best workplaces isn’t about throwing money indiscriminately at employee perks. What matters most is authentically establishing trust and respect within organizations. In addition to fair pay, for example, great retailers must provide even-handed opportunities for advancement and environments where employees feel valued regardless of their role.
The traits of a great retail workplace hold true even among the online businesses that are redefining how we think about commerce. Among the best employers in this sector, Revzilla entices employees with playful perks alongside their work selling premium motorcycle gear. These include weekly catered lunches, a gym with after-hours yoga classes and even an on-site trampoline and skate ramp. While these side benefits are beloved in their own right, they fundamentally reflect the amount of attention the company pays to the unique needs and character of its workforce. As a result, nearly all of its 160 employees say Revzilla is a great place to work, and 98 percent also agree it's an organization where people are consistently motivated to give extra to get the job done.
This strong sense of engagement is a uniting characteristic among the best retailers. In fact, among the companies that made the list in 2015, an average of 82 percent of employees say they actually look forward to coming to work. Just as many employees describe these workplaces as cooperative environments, staffed by strong teams with friendly team members who believe their work is more than “just a job.” As a consumer, where would you prefer to shop?
More than 15.7 million people work in retail across the U.S., according to the Department of Labor. Positive developments in their professional opportunities, work environments and compensation can have a far-reaching impact. Especially in the coming weeks, shoppers patronizing the country's best workplaces can feel good knowing that their spending not only benefits the recipients of their holiday gifts, but also the people who made those purchases possible.
To see the full list of the 20 Best Workplaces in Retail, visit fortune.com/2015/11/24/best-workplaces-retail/.
Sarah Kulin-Lewis and Peter Barnes are vice-president & senior editor, and consulting editor, respectively, at Great Place to Work, the longtime research partner for Fortune’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For and other best workplaces lists, including the 20 Best Workplaces in Retail.