Managing retail staff is unique. There are many different types of employees, each with their own pros and cons. And when it comes to balancing full- and part-timers, it’s an ongoing challenge. Below, we offer some expert advice on the differences in managing your different retail employees, and how you can successfully motivate and engage your part-time staff.
The differences between managing full-time and part-time staff
First and foremost, it’s important to treat all of your staff equally. Harry Friedman of retail consulting and sales training company The Friedman Group points out that it makes no difference to the customer. “The customer doesn’t know how many hours a salesperson works,” he says.
Michael Patrick, founder and president of MOHR Retail which offers retail management training, echoes that advice. “Don’t treat [part-timers] differently than full-time; everybody’s an associate,” he says.
But, there are still some differences to keep in mind.
“If somebody’s working full-time, they’re making a living at it,” says Friedman. Part-timers, on the other hand, have other commitments outside of this job. They may juggle school, another job, raising a family, sports and other activities.
That doesn’t mean you should discount the possibility of a longer-term and more serious commitment, though. “That’s a huge pool of candidates to move to full-time as an assistant or key holder,” Patrick says. “That population of part-timers may or may not move on. If you have a good relationship, they could be your next full-time person.”
Full-time and part-time staff both deserve recognition for their hard work and contributions, but it’s difficult to put them on the same playing field when their roles vary so greatly. And part-time staff is often overlooked, especially when it comes to sales numbers.
“Customers are shopping on nights and weekends, so pay attention to the customer wins that [part-timers] have,” Patrick says. “The correlation is not ‘because I work limited hours, I don’t have success with customers.’”
Full-time staff typically have a set schedule, regular communication with managers, and are involved in the daily processes of your business. Part-time staff, however, have multiple managers, receive updates in different ways, and are not always privy to the latest important information.
“[With full-timers], you don’t have to work so hard at coaching moments [and] being able to give them individual feedback, and I think that that’s what’s lacking from a part-time person,” says Patrick. “It’s hard to be consistent when they’re there. They’re going to have multiple points of supervision that might not always be the senior manager.”
How to manage your part-time retail employees
Whether they’re working five hours a month or putting in close to 30 every week, the onboarding and ongoing training process is essential. Onboarding is your way to welcome employees to the team. The United States Postal Service sends their employees a welcome kit with a backpack, water bottle and other USPS swag.
Initial training to acclimate staff to your brand and their role within it is also an important step to take for all new hires. The Home Depot, for example, puts all retail employees through the same training, including information about the brand, their respective store, and their role in the company. This is a common practice for many major retailers, and smaller ones can adopt similar approaches to set things off on the right (professional) foot.
Training doesn’t stop after onboarding, though. “You have to create learning and information networks,” Patrick says. Training can take many forms: managerial feedback, on-the-job training, retail consulting agencies and firms and formal reviews.
Those reviews don’t have to be too formal, says Patrick. “Buy them Starbucks. Talk to them. Get to know them personally, and even what some of their career goals are. It’s very interesting to us that some of the best managers become mentors long after the person leaves the retailer, and the reason is they had shown interest in graduations, birthdays, those kinds of things, and what their career goals are.”
Train your management as well. These are your part-timers’ day-to-day contacts, so they should be educated on what it takes to be an effective supervisor.
“Part-timers often feel that because they don’t get information, they’re not engaged as much,” Patrick says. “They may not see the manager or any kind of senior leads regularly, so they begin to de-value the time that they’re spending there.”
Provide lots of communication
One problem many part-timers face is not enough communication from their employer and/or management. That’s why it’s important to use several modes of communication, and to over communicate whenever possible.
“There are a number of changes that [part-timers are] not aware of. Merchandise is moved. New merchandise is coming in. Pricing or promotions are changing,” Patrick says. “Retailers are becoming much more promotional and reactive to customer data, so they will do point-of-sale, discounts, and pop-up sales or promotions.”
Daniel Diamonds, a jewelry store based in Evergreen, CO that has been in business for more than two decades, is mostly a family-run business. They do have two staff on the roster, though: one full-time and one part-time, both of whom have been loyal to the company for years. Owner/general manager Kellie Alkayam says part of what keeps them motivated as great retail employees is open and transparent employer-employee communication.
Establish and follow communication processes
You can’t assume that managers have all the information and will communicate it to every part-time employee, says Patrick. “Their schedules are infrequent; they don’t overlap.” And while verbal communication is important, he recommends using other modes as well. “Think about the touch points in the store,” he says.
- Where they sign or clock in
- Employee spaces or break rooms
- Behind the counter and by the cash register
A checklist of the recent highlights should be easy-to-find for all of your staff. “What are the five things you need to know? What’s changed? What’s moved? What’s new? Get some questions in a quick checklist,” Patrick says.
Get on their level / meet them where they’re at
The most effective retail leaders and managers know that feedback should always go two ways. Just as important as it is to provide constructive criticism to help your staff improve, you should be collecting their thoughts on how you can provide a better working environment for them.
This is beneficial both because you’re making your staff feel heard, and you’re getting direction, from the source, on how to best manage your employees. “Asking them is also a way to show respect and value,” says Patrick.
“Engagement is a way to show value, and it’s at the core of motivation regardless of how many hours an associate works in retail.” – Michael Patrick, MOHR Retail
Questions should also help you gauge how informed your employees are so that you can understand if you need to make adjustments to your communication strategies. “Retail leaders need to ask more questions about what part-timers know,” Patrick says.
Here are just a few questions that Patrick recommends:
- How can I communicate with you better?
- Do you feel like you know enough to answer all the questions you get from customers? What else can I share with you?
- When I’m not here, do you know who to go to? Have you had any conversations with them?
- How have your conversations with other supervisors gone?
- How can I support you better?
- What can I do to help you?
- How are you feeling about being here?
- What’s most challenging?
- What’s your experience as an employee here?
- Have I given you everything that you need?
- What would you add to the orientation that we did, that would make this even better or give you more confidence?
Part-timers have the unique stipulation that their scheduling is a bit more complicated than your full-time staff. Many times, full-timers are on a set schedule. With part-timers, though, those schedules can be more diverse. This is both an advantage and disadvantage, depending on the circumstances. And many times, that schedule flexibility is a major benefit in the eyes of your part-time staff.
“The fact of the matter is they are gonna have to work their part-timers schedule occasionally,” Patrick says. Establish, document, and distribute policies that clearly outline how your part-time employees can request time off, get their shifts covered, or adjust their schedule. Get your employees’ scheduling preferences before you hire them, so you can predict what you have to work around.
Consider implementing tools that can help you manage and structure retail staff schedules. Here are just a few:
Nights, weekends and holidays are the norm for part-time retail workers, which means there’s a definite loss of time with friends and family. Patrick stresses the importance of recognizing your team as another sort of family away from home. “It’s almost a source of socializing on its own,” he says.
Especially on holidays, Patrick suggests treating your employees for showing up, a sort of incentive. “It’s a way to say, ‘Look, I know you can’t be with your family, but this is your retail family.’”
Motivating and engaging
Encourage performance through fun competitions
Friedman points out the importance of treating every employee as someone who has the potential to be a high-performing salesperson. That’s why he recommends healthy and fun competitions to keep a performance-based focus in a motivational environment.
“One of the first things that we do is expose the numbers, not only to the individual, but we post them on the wall,” Friedman says. “Everybody knows what everybody else’s average sales are.”
If you have multiple brick-and-mortar locations, you could pit them against each other in a challenge. This helps bond your employees while also pushing them to perform at a high level. This is an approach that Friedman has applied in the past. “Challenge the other stores in the chain for a bet, maybe money, booze or dinner, or the losing team has to come in and clean my store.”
Implement employee programs
Some retailers also put employee programs into place to maintain ongoing engagement. These could be wellness programs with incentives like a free gym membership, or contributions to school tuition. Store discounts is a pretty straightforward and easy way to reward and incentivize your part-time workers, too. “[Part-timers] often work at stores that they would typically shop in,” Patrick points out.
Celebrate staff milestones and events
Just as you would celebrate customer milestones through a loyalty program, you can take a similar approach with your staff. It could be as simple as saying something along the lines of, “You hit 90 days! I hope we get to keep you for another 90.” If you want to go an extra mile, celebrate with gifts, discounts or other perks.
Personal milestones are also important. “Make note of birthdays and graduations and other milestones,” Patrick says. “Knowing who they are is a great way to build rapport.”