Retail employee standing with arms crossed and smiling while wearing a green face mask

How to Improve Employee Morale in Retail During COVID-19

Does your staff need a boost? Here are our tips on how to motivate and engage retail employees in-store

  • By Sarah Murphy

Boosting employee morale in retail should always be a priority, but COVID-19 has made it more critical than ever—as well as more challenging—for many retailers.

At the beginning of the pandemic, store associates were hailed as frontline heroes and treated as such. But almost a year later, temporary hazard pay has disappeared, sick leave has been used up, and many feel expendable

In some cases, employees feel so underappreciated and overworked that they’re quitting mid-shift, increasing the burden on remaining staff and driving morale even further down.

So, how do you boost employee morale during COVID-19?

In this article, we’ll share some of the ways retailers can boost employee morale during the pandemic.

But before we begin, it’s important to understand the challenges that your team members are facing right now.


Common Challenges for Retail Employees During the Pandemic

On a broad scale, some of the most common challenges facing retail employees right now are sick leave and hazard pay (or lack thereof), dealing with increasingly hostile customers, and reduced staffing due to sick or isolating employees.

As previously mentioned, many major retailers issued sick leave and additional hazard pay at the beginning of the pandemic, but in most cases, those have expired. And despite recent pay bumps in some businesses, cashiers and retail salespeople remain amongst the lowest-paid frontline workers.

Additionally, retail staff continue to be confronted by hostile customers who are upset by low stock, mask requirements, and social distancing regulations—damaging workplace morale and increasing employee turnover.

Furthermore, many retailers are understaffed due to the increased use of sick days and team members taking time off to self-isolate. To compensate, many retailers have hired additional associates to fill the gap, but it takes time to properly train staff, especially under such difficult conditions.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to boost your team’s morale and help them support each other throughout the COVID-19 pandemic without breaking the bank.


4 Ways to Boost Retail Employee Morale

woman wearing a hijab using a tablet in a clothing store

1. Implement Safety Measures to Protect Staff

According to SHRM, safety measures like face coverings can improve employees’ comfort levels in-store, boosting the morale of frontline workers.

Mandatory regulations vary from place to place, but you can show your staff that you value them by taking additional measures to ease their concerns.

Providing personal protective equipment (e.g., masks, face shields, and gloves), increased cleaning procedures, sanitizer stations, and clearly marked social distancing rules will help your employees feel safer at work.

Showing that you care about your employees’ health and safety will increase their confidence in you as an employer, as well as boost the team’s overall morale.


2. Recognize Personal Sacrifices and Jobs Well Done

Retail employees are making personal sacrifices to work on the frontlines during COVID-19, so be sure to recognize and reward them for it. 

Store managers should give verbal praise and show appreciation to each staff member upon arrival and at the end of each shift, as well as for outstanding sales, completing tasks, and going above and beyond with their customer service.

It’s especially helpful to explain the positive impact that their work has on others or the store as a whole. For example, suppose an associate encourages customers to use hand sanitizer at the cash register before making a purchase. In that case, you could say, “Thank you for taking that initiative. You are keeping yourself, your coworkers, and our customers safe by promoting good hand hygiene,” so they know they’re doing a good job and being respected for it.

Weekly or monthly rewards can also incentivize associates to reach sales targets, complete tasks on time, and provide excellent customer service. Rewards don’t have to be huge or expensive, either—a coffee, an extra 15-minute break, or a gift card are small tokens that can make an employee feel valued for their hard work.

Peer-to-peer recognition should also be encouraged to boost morale and create a supportive environment. In addition to verbal praise, a simple “thank-you board” can be set up in the break room (or virtually), where associates post notes or comments online recognizing a job well done by their peers.


3. Empower Employees with Tools and Training

Life is stressful enough already. Don’t make things worse by relying on outdated forms of technology in your stores. 

Employees who are struggling with outdated technology can get easily frustrated completing even the most basic tasks, so equip your team with the latest technology and properly train them how to use it. That way, everyone will have a better in-store experience.

Whether it’s a symptom-screening app, a capacity-counting device, or a consolidated communication hub like Foko Retail, tools that let employees do their jobs more effectively will improve productivity, as well as their confidence in the company.

Making tools available to associates on mobile devices is especially useful, as most of the workforce already knows how to operate smartphones and tablets in their personal lives. Plus, they allow employees to access information right on the sales floor.

Also, consider implementing a “bring your own device” policy to cut down on costs and reduce the need to disinfect and share devices at work.


4. Communicate Clearly and Listen to Feedback 

Communication is the cornerstone of any successful team, and it’s never been more important than during the pandemic. 

With so much new and evolving information, changing regulations and protocols, and heightened anxiety, clear leadership through consistent communication is essential.

Headquarters should be delivering frequent messaging via email or video updates, informing employees of what is being done to protect them and what resources are available to them.

It’s also important that channels of communication between HQ and the front line are open both ways, allowing store associates to ask questions and clarify information as needed.

HQ should welcome feedback from those at the store level, who likely have a better understanding of what is or isn’t working well (e.g., customer symptom screenings at the front door, placement of hand sanitizer stations, the direction of line-ups, etc.) Responding to feedback is also crucial to show that HQ understands in-store issues and employees’ current concerns. 

If stores can’t implement immediate improvements, at least offer an explanation and some sort of temporary solution. Better yet, involve store associates in the decision-making processes to prevent avoidable problems before they turn up in-store.

If employees feel like they are given a chance to voice their opinions and make meaningful change, they will form a stronger allegiance to the company and take more pride in their work, contributing to an increase in morale.


Final Thoughts on How to Boost Employee Morale in Retail

Whether you implement some or all of these suggestions, it’s imperative that retailers offer support to their frontline staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. Morale may be fragile at the moment, but a supportive employer and enthusiastic team can ensure that your employees remain safe, dedicated, and positive—no matter what challenges they face.


Does your frontline team need a boost? Book a demo to find out how Foko Retail can improve employee morale and help your retail team thrive during COVID-19.


About the Author

Sarah Murphy is a content marketing specialist with a background in journalism. She lives in Hamilton, ON, where she is mom to a 13-year-old wiener dog named Penny. When not watching bad reality TV, she’s probably chasing squirrels out of her garden or baking cookies.