Why the Best Retailers Don’t Have to Worry About Turnover

November 1, 2016, 12:00 PM UTC
SOHO Patagonia Retail Store Worn Wear Repair Center. All models are Patagonia employees.
SOHO Patagonia Retail Store Worn Wear Repair Center. All models are Patagonia employees.
Courtesy of Patagonia/Colin McCarthy

U.S. retailers have had a problem holding onto employees in recent years. But some in the industry have largely avoided this headache with a solution that doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg: a great workplace culture.

You can find many of these leading retailers on the list of the 2016 Best Workplaces in Retail—a new ranking our organization, research and consulting firm Great Place to Work, just published with our partner, Fortune.

Consider this comment we heard from an employee at supermarket chain Wegmans, the No. 1 ranking large company on the list: “I have worked for the company for 26 years. I have always been treated very fairly here. I really enjoy coming in to work here. I really have no desire to retire, I would love to work here forever if I can.”

Connecting With the Community

For years, our research has documented a lower turnover rate among Best Workplaces. This year’s ranking of the top employers in retail provides insights into how companies in the industry can become talent magnets and get the best out of their people.

Whether they’re selling baseball bats or groceries, the Best Workplaces in Retail nurture an authentic connection between employees and their work. “Employees place a lot of importance in finding meaning in their work. The closer they feel to the mission and the product or service they are providing, the higher quality work you can expect,” says Elizabeth Stocker, our colleague and a consultant at Great Place to Work. “The most respected retail employers help co-workers feel they make a real contribution to those they serve.”

For more on retail, watch this Fortune video:

Patagonia, for example, lives up to its image as an enabler of outdoor adventure by offering flexible hours, a company ski trip, and its Environmental Internship Program. The latter grants up to two months of pay and benefits for employees taking a break to work with an environmental group of their choosing.

Perks tied to the company’s mission can make a real impact on the dedication of the workforce, even among those working less than full-time. Analysis of surveys from companies eligible for the Best Workplaces in Retail list showed that part-time employees who say their jobs carry special meaning are five times more likely to say they plan to stay with their employers for a long time. They’re also twice as likely to say their teams are willing to give extra to get the job done.

Investing in the Front Line

No one is closer to a retail business’ customers than the employees conducting their transactions. Ongoing professional development doesn’t just enhance customer service. Our research shows that it can have a dramatic effect on team members’ attitudes about their employers. Among those surveyed, part-time retail employees who reported positive views about training opportunities were twice as likely to look forward to coming to work each day. They were also twice as likely to describe their companies as great places to work.

“People at all levels want to feel they have something valuable to offer the team, and training helps to provide that,” says Great Place to Work executive vice president Tony Bond. “The Best Workplaces offer clear management tracks, as well as routine ways for front-line employees to improve their skills. These can be as simple as one-on-one check-ins with supervisors or bite-sized training opportunities in the form of apps and web videos that fit within retail co-workers’ sporadic downtime.”

Cultivating Credibility

People at the Best Workplaces in Retail were significantly more likely than those at peer companies to say their managers deliver on their promises, encourage work-life balance, and make employees feel at home when they change jobs. Effective leaders also recognize their subordinates’ needs as individuals. Robust benefits are the most obvious way to do so. Yet companies like Room & Board, Nugget Market, and Patagonia stand apart from most of their competitors by offering the same insurance coverage to part-time staff as they do to headquarters employees.

Just as important, the leading retail employers create a culture of trust through a combination of employee investment and management practices that reflect how essential these team members are to their brands. “Trust and credibility from leadership is especially important in an industry known for high turnover,” Stocker says. “When employees feel that they have good working relationships and can trust their managers, they are much more likely to feel that they are valued members of the team and to envision a future with the company.”

And when employees in retail are energized and loyal, customer loyalty is likely to follow. Here’s how an employee at motorcycle gear seller RevZilla.com—the top-ranking small and medium-sized retailer—puts it: “This is the only company I have ever worked for that has figured out that if they take care of the employees, they won’t ever have to worry about the customers.”

Click here to see the full 2016 Best Workplaces in Retail list.


Kim Peters and Sarah Lewis-Kulin are Executive Vice President and Vice President, 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 Best Workplaces in Retail.

Read More

Great ResignationInflationSupply ChainsLeadership