BrainTrust Query: Seven Tips for Retailers to Avoid Holiday Burn Out

Dec 22, 2010
Bob Phibbs

Commentary by Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor

Through a special arrangement,
presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail

With all the demands of the holiday season, including longer hours, co-workers
calling in sick and returns, it’s easy for retail staff to throw up their
hands and become Grinches. But that comfortable old "grinchy" feeling
will cost a retailer sales.

Here are seven tips to avoid it:

1) Embrace the idea of the holiday music: Instead
of fighting it, retailers should look at it as a reminder these are the money
weeks. Holiday music makes shoppers feel merry. And happy shoppers buy more
than unhappy ones.

2) Make a schedule policy and stick to it: No one gets Christmas Eve
off or the day after Christmas. If it is slow, associates can be let go early.

3) Offer shorter holiday shifts for your employees: Associates can
become Grinches much quicker than store managers/owners. Give them a six-hour
shift if possible. A split shift enables employees to work the opening four
hours and the closing four hours with a break during the middle of the day
for errands or shopping. Giving schedule choices ahead of time allows for much
happier employees.

4) Set a daily goal for the store: Stores can also set a goal that
by close of business Christmas Eve they’ll have done X for the month and by
close of business December 31, they’ll have done Y. Progress should be tracked
daily. Employees can be given incentives for achieving both daily and holiday

5) Have short meetings with the staff: Set a goal for their shift of
some of the store’s most profitable products, and show associates how they can

6) Feed the sixth sense. Store managers/owners should always have their
head up and looking around the store to see who has been waiting a long time,
who has a question, which cashier is not up to it, etc. People are more stressed
than ever with less time and they are going to punish those who make them wait.

7) Keep managers off the registers: They can most move the needle of
sales on the sales floor. Save their skills for bigger decisions than a price
check or a markdown to avoid additional stress.

Discussion Questions: What tips do you have for avoiding store associate
burnout during the Christmas rush? What would you add to the recommendations
suggested in the article?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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12 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Seven Tips for Retailers to Avoid Holiday Burn Out"

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Kevin Graff
10 years 4 months ago

All good points by The Retail Doc, Bob Phibbs.

Burnout is a real thing in stores. Managers need to ask themselves “where’s the fun?” We want our customers to have a great shopping experience so be sure your staff are having a great work experience too. Yes, there’s a job to be done. But it can get done while having fun. Everyone in management needs to lighten up. A bit of true Christmas spirit will go a long way!

Marge Laney
10 years 4 months ago

All really great points! Be it a great attitude or a lousy one it starts at the top! The mid-tier and large chain retailers should make sure that their stores have the enthusiastic and upbeat support of their regional and corporate managers. There’s nothing worse than the stores feeling like they’re pulling all the weight with little or no support from above. Making sure that the front line is well supplied and supported will help them ward off the Grinch and make the last leg of this year’s holiday retail marathon at least tolerable and hopefully profitable.

David Biernbaum
10 years 4 months ago

Once we figure out how to keep retail employees happy and cheerful for the holiday rush, and post-holiday rush, let’s then take our findings to the airlines, the post office, and to the cable customer service department.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
10 years 4 months ago

My son works in retail and I came home from a visit. He only took two days of vacation besides his regular days off. However we went out and did things together. Last night I received an email saying having a break during the busy Christmas season really helped him have a better perspective for getting through the rest of the season. Maybe that’s a strategy.

Gordon Arnold
10 years 4 months ago

Wait to check out is huge for customers. Today’s retailer must keep the lines short using all available resources. Scheduling a building full of employees with few customers hurts the spread sheet and employee moral. Customers needing assistance are peeved watching a nonsense meeting when they need help.

As for music, the northeastern portion of the USA is too diverse for holiday music as a staple feed. What seems to be best received is inclusion or a blended mix to entertain all of a stores customers and make them feel acknowledged. The author of these ideas might want to consider a couple months on the floor to see what is going on right now.

Doug Fleener
10 years 4 months ago

Good list Bob!

I would add that thanking the employee for their hard work and contribution goes a long ways towards the staff becoming a Grinch.

Some store owners and managers forget the challenge and sacrifices their employees make during the holidays. Sure they signed up for it and they get paid to do so, but acknowledging and thanking them means a lot.

Anne Howe
10 years 4 months ago

My addition to Bob’s list for 2011 holiday season:

Encourage retail managers to provide associates with advance notice if they are going to be assigned register duty near the entrance doors, so they can be appropriately dressed.

I have encountered way too many “Grinchy, grumpy” sales associates at cash wraps in the Midwest this year because they are FREEZING COLD. I’ve been asking if they knew they were going to be assigned to the cold spot in advance, and most did not. Most also say managers are unwilling to rotate cashiers to other registers to let them warm up for cash drawer control reasons. Should they know better? Yes, but managers seem to just skip an obvious reminder and a planned rotation to the cold spots most stores have by the entry doors!

This is SUCH AN EASY PROBLEM TO FIX!! Happy Holidays!!

Mark Burr
10 years 4 months ago
I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Fleener. Thanks is a huge motivator. It’s both gratitude and recognition. In addition, keeping it ‘light’ is great. Leadership hands-on involvement is great. Growing up in an independent retailer environment, if you were caught in your office after December 15, you had better have a good explanation. It didn’t matter if you were just walking around, greeting, thanking, and lending a hand–you had better be ‘on the floor’. Our owners served coffee and sweets not only to customers but to the associates. They were visible, sleeves rolled up, and digging in. Everyone ‘did’. Somewhere along the line, we seemed to have forgotten that hard work at retail is supposed to be fun. It’s the busiest time of the year. Days fly as if they had wings. As I write this, I am wishing I was ‘on the floor’. It’s a time of great fun. I don’t believe that is sentimental. It was real fun. Making it fun however that fits your environment is a necessity. Some I’m sure have not… Read more »
Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson
10 years 4 months ago

Retailers should follow the Container Store’s example (no slouch when it comes to keeping employees happy). That merchant declared Valentine’s Day 2010 as “National We Love Our Employees Day.” As part of that special employee recognition day, Container Store also worked with its vendors to donate enough gifts for 4,000 employee goodie boxes.

Admittedly, every merchant can’t do exactly what the Container Store did (especially given many brands are much larger). But other merchants can take the idea and tweak it for their brand. The key is using the holiday period to show some appreciation for staff. And it can be low-cost and can involve customers. For example, at the service desk, brands can give customers small thank you cards that they can, in turn, provide to staff for helping them find a gift, helping them understand the differences in camera options or for providing good service all year long.

Kai Clarke
10 years 4 months ago

This is an overrated concern. The key to holiday burn out is first attracting a high volume of customers. Then ensuring that you have high velocity items that will offer a diversity of demand from a mixed consumer audience. Frankly, most of these ideas really do not apply. Today’s environment is much different than those of the past….

Odonna Mathews
Odonna Mathews
10 years 4 months ago

I agree that the store manager can make all the difference in the world in creating positive sales and an upbeat atmosphere with employees and customers. Their best efforts should be focused on “managing while walking around” so they can keep their eye of merchandising as well as customer service. Keeping a sense of humor goes a long ways when things get so busy. It is a time of year to show appreciation for employees-and that would include anything from food tastings or potlucks in the back room, to small random “prizes” for employees drawn several times a day, to charity drives where staffers can work together for a common local cause.

Phil Rubin
10 years 4 months ago

While holiday burnout is a real issue, if you’re committed to retail it’s part of the essence of the business. More importantly it’s party of the excitement of it. Managing employee burnout is up to managers who have to lead and that includes paying attention to what’s going on, both in terms of customers and employees.


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