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How great leadership boosts talent retention in retail

It’s 9am at the plush Kimpton Fitzroy Hotel in London and the room is abuzz as guests enjoy their breakfast before diving into data and conversation…. View Article


How great leadership boosts talent retention in retail

It’s 9am at the plush Kimpton Fitzroy Hotel in London and the room is abuzz as guests enjoy their breakfast before diving into data and conversation.

Great Place To Work UK, the global authority on workplace culture, partnered with UKG to host their first-ever ‘Great Culture Collective’ – and invitation-only roundtable event for around 30 delegates working at top-performing organisations in Retail, Hospitality & Leisure.

The aim: create a safe space where delegates could network, share their experiences, and learn from people-related data and insights to help uncover key issues and solutions for bolstering retail and hospitality into more than ‘just a job’.

Amongst the inspiring ideas shared by delegates, one key takeaway stood out: Great leadership could be retailers’ secret sauce to levelling up employee retention and business success.

“Give everyone a great boss,” said one attendee – and immediately the room was nodding in agreement. After all, those employees who have great managers are typically the ones who are more productive, more motivated, more loyal, and more likely deliver better customer service.

And great leadership is desperately needed in our beloved world of retail.

Great Place To Work’s data – based on anonymous feedback from thousands of workers across the UK – revealed that nearly a third (31%) of retail and hospitality employees often think about looking for a job at another employer.

This matches the sector’s 31% average turnover reported by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

What’s more, it’s estimated that retailers will need to spend £3,800.00 to replace an employee on an hourly wage of £11.44. Take, for example, a large-sized supermarket comprising 10,000 employees across its stores: the total cost to fill the gaps would be a whopping £11.78 million in just one year.

“At the end of the day, I’ve always been struck by the saying: we’re an industry of people serving people,” shared another delegate. “This sector needs more of us looking after our people properly. Give them the tools, the flexibility they need to feel great about coming to work every day. Our managers are so crucial to how employees feel about work. It doesn’t matter whether the employee is working in Head Office, if they’re on the floor with customers, in distribution, or whatever…If you start with managers, you can tick off loads of what employees are asking for. This helps us, as the business, but we also then do better by our own people and the people we serve.”

This call for retail employers to focus on their workplace culture goes beyond just doing what’s morally right for people – it inevitably helps the business performance and profitability.

Retail companies who are Great Place To Work Certified™ boast a far lower employee turnover rate (17%) than the national average (31%). Moreover, 78% of employees working in the UK’s Best Workplaces within retail, hospitality and leisure told Great Place To Work that they’d “want to work here for a long time” compared to just 56% of employees working at a typical UK company not recognised as ‘great’ or ‘best’ by the authority.

Retail employees want…

1. …the right tech and flexibility for their teams.

Not having the right tech and processes to work flexibly when needed can have significant impacts on employees’ moods and behaviour towards customers. According to UKG research, 41% of retail employees want more flexibility than what is typically offered in the industry.

In fact:

– 33% say their employer could do better at scheduling

– 35% want easy mobile access to exchange their shifts with colleagues and sign up for available shifts

– 90% feel their work is harder than it should be due to outdated technologies and processes.

Top-performing retailers provide easy access to appropriate self-scheduling tools and give workers sufficient autonomy how they perform their roles. The result is a more effective, efficient, and happier workforce, leading to more positive interactions with their customers – thereby boosting the retailer’s brand image.

Of course, this goes hand in hand with improving employees’ digital literacy.

In 2023, the World Economic Forum reported that 60% of employees globally were worried about losing their job to AI in the next 10 years. Alongside an upgrade to current tech and processes, retail employers who upskill digital literacy across their workforce will go further in strengthening the employee experience because this supports employees’ development, psychological wellbeing, and sense of job security.

As a result, employees experience higher levels of wellbeing and, in turn, a stronger intent to stay.

2. … real fairness across the business.

Great managers take time to get to know their people’s individual needs, as well as the needs of their collective team. This may involve tailoring one’s benefits offering and/or work environments for different groups across the business.

For example, what one colleague may need for compassionate leave may differ greatly to another colleague’s needs for the same type of leave. Giving managers the authority to flex the number of days for individuals’ bereavement could have substantial positive effects on each person’s wellbeing and employee experience.

As one delegate shared at during a roundtable discussion: “We’ve seen so clearly that different expectations can even come from different generations within the same department. I think it’s so important to say: ‘It’s okay to be different. We can handle different without it causing chaos’. And if we can’t do something that employees want or asked for, to be courageous in telling people that we have looked into it, we can’t afford that right now, or that won’t work unfortunately in our type of business, or for that specific type of role…but we are willing to speak uncomfortable truths as much as sharing what can be done. This is what builds trust and loyalty.”

Managers are fundamental to the employee experience because their daily interactions with employees and teams significantly impact their people’s perceptions of their employer and, sometimes, the wider industry.

“Some of us have been in this [retail] business for over 10 years. We know that retail and hospitality is more than “just a job”,” shared another delegate. “But it’s so hard to prove that to our people unless more of us become genuinely great workplaces for everyone who works with us.”

3. …to receive the same treatment as their customers.

Ensuring that your employee experience mirrors your customer experience will role model culture internally, which can then be reflected externally, thus helping employees to deliver the best service to their customers.

One award-winning hotel brand, for example, has recently revamped their back of house to provide employees with a similar style and level of comfort in their break rooms and cafeterias as the rooms and leisure areas offered to the hotel’s guests. This makes their people feel valued, respected, and helps keep employees motivated to provide exceptional service throughout the day.

Another example came from a retail delegate who shared that the company has core messaging around loving employees as they are, and that this message is mentioned at every key touchpoint along the employee journey, beginning at the onboarding stage. It’s an inclusive company value that instantly allows colleagues to feel welcome and encouraged to bring their whole selves to work; fuelling feelings of belonging and driving increased engagement, job satisfaction and loyalty.

Empowering people to give of their best ultimately benefits the bottom-line: a win-win.

In any service industry, human interactions are paramount – but top-performing retailers are harnessing the power of great culture and the positive internal interactions with colleagues working in such an environment.

In a people-first culture, managers can bring out the best in their teams by displaying empathy, focusing on individuals’ preferences and needs. This then allows them to know how to treat each person as they would like to be treated.

And yes, delegates did acknowledge that sometimes this will require some financial investment – whether it be in upgrading the technology available to employees, benefits packages, physical work environments, or in upskilling leaders to become even better managers.

But it pales in comparison to the grave cost of losing your talented people – to competitors or to another industry entirely.

Every employer, regardless of sector, wants to experience reduced turnover, improved customer satisfaction, enhanced productivity and teamwork, and a positive brand image.

These insights from the Great Culture Collective provide a compelling basis for retail Chief Executives to recognise the critical role that great culture and leadership plays in shaping employee experience and improving talent retention.

To find out more about the Great Place To Work accreditation process, please visit or call 0870 608 8780.

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