A new survey reveals that retail employees’ energy levels are dropping dangerously low because they feel overworked. Christine Hayhurst tells you how to revive their enthusiasm for the job

Employees in the retail environment are overworked, put business ahead of family and work within a negative culture. This startling statement emerges from an in-depth study of attitudes to work across a variety of industry sectors. Conducted by Adecco and the Chartered Management Institute, the 2004 Business Energy Survey found that businesses are failing to understand the needs of their most important assets - their people - and that workplace energy levels are dropping dangerously low.
The report shows that volume of work has adverse effects on employee energy levels. Within retail, 31% admit to having no free time on weekday evenings because of work and 14% go as far as suggesting they use time off solely to recover from work. Many managers also feel there is a negative management style operating in their organisation, with most calling for open and receptive management.
It’s easy to see why frustrations exist. The pace of change and a desire to reduce costs have had a major impact on working patterns in many organisations, but all too often these changes are not communicated effectively and take their toll. Part of the problem lies in senior management believing one thing about levels of morale, when those closer to the coal-face have vastly different experiences. It’s only when people begin to feel a close and meaningful involvement with their organisation that they bring energy, enthusiasm and passion to their work. And when that happens the end result is often greater drive, higher productivity and better results.
So how can you motivate your staff, ensuring they enjoy what they do and your organisation performs productively? First, it’s worth noting that the most successful companies are the ones that listen to and empower their people. The key, then, is to ensure that managers connect with their frontline teams and are open with staff at all times. Don’t be selective in giving information and share news in plenty of time. You must also listen to what your staff have to say. Of course you should try to anticipate their questions when you have announcements to make, but some issues may be more important than you think. Don’t automatically trot out the prepared response. People will see through that. The easiest way to demonstrate you are really listening to staff concerns is to get on the shop floor and understand the feelings of your staff. If you make yourself more approachable you will be seen as someone who interacts with everyone, not just senior staff.
Well-respected organisations are often said to have a positive inclusive culture. One way to create this atmosphere is to address the workload of your staff. After all, people can, and do, feel drained if they don’t know which task to turn to first or what is expected of them. So, avoid favouring individuals
and relying on those who show an aptitude for the work in hand. Doing so will only tire them out and create resentment among others. And an important element of workload is the attitude towards how tasks are achieved. Remember input doesn’t necessarily equate to output.
And of course, don’t forget that people like to be thanked! Numerous surveys in the last few months have shown that money isn’t always the main motivator. Recognise people for the work they do and compliment them on their achievements. It doesn’t have to be the extreme employee of the month scenario that was mimicked in the Dinner Ladies TV series, but showing individuals that they are not going unnoticed goes a long way to encouraging people to go that extra mile.
It is a fact that this industry is subject to rapid change, often in direction, for new initiatives or in working practices. That’s not a bad thing - but it is important that you employ a sense of realism about the amount of change and its effects on those who deliver your core business. So match the pace of change realistically to the resources available. It may be worth reassessing the initiatives being introduced. Judge whether all the ideas are properly co-ordinated or if some clash with others and should be dropped.
Ultimately career progression and organisational productivity are closely linked to an individual’s energy levels and if people are not properly motivated they will be less inclined to give their best. It’s a fine balancing act but the rewards, in terms of staff and stakeholder satisfaction, are worth it.
n Christine Hayhurst is director of professional affairs, the Chartered Management Institute