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5 Ways to Keep Your Associates Happy (and Improve Supermarket Operations)

Your store operations are complex, to say the least. Every single day, you must ensure your store is clean, displays are engaging and up-to-date, merchandise is well stocked, and health and safety rules are being followed.

To provide the best possible customer service, you must also know how many workers you need on the floor and behind the scenes at any given time of the day, and those workers must have top-notch training. Throw in weekly supplier promotions and special events, and it’s hard to stay on your toes. “Complex”, in fact, doesn’t even begin to describe it.

You can’t do it all without a well-thought out, finely-tuned operations plan—but that’s just the start. It’s your employees who ensure your store operates smoothly, and without buy-in from those who execute it, your finely tuned plan doesn’t stand a chance.

Happy Associates = Smooth Supermarket Operations = Happy Associates

What comes first: happy associates or smooth operations? The answer is simple—a well-run, successful supermarket has both. Success cannot be achieved if one is missing.

So, before you expect your associates to stand behind your operations efforts, you must first ensure they are happy. This sounds easy enough, but like your store operations, it can actually be quite complex.

Let’s start with a happiness expert. Gretchen Rubin, the bestselling author of The Happiness Project, says that happy employees are critical to any company’s success because they're:

  • More productive
  • Better leaders
  • More creative
  • Better team players

We all want and need our employees to be all these things. So, what’s the magic formula for employee happiness?

Many experts agree that investing in the workforce and operational practices that benefit employees, customers, and the company is the number one thing an organization can do to ensure success.

Retailing's Vicious Cycle (low labor budgets, low sales and profits, low quality and/or quantity of labor, poor operational execution) and Retailing's Virtuous Cycle (high labor budgets, good quality and quantity of labor, good operational execution, and high sales and profits)

[Image Credit: Harvard Business Review]

Example: Publix Invests in Employee Happiness

So how can we apply this information to the grocery industry? Let’s take a look at Florida-based Publix Super Markets—a great example of a retailer that follows the retailing virtuous cycle.

A happy cashier and customer at a grocery store.

[Image Credit:]

Publix is one of the most successful grocery chains in the U.S., with an impressive employee retention record (its annual voluntary turnover rate is 5%, compared to the retail industry average of 65%).

Publix achieved record sales in 2016, has never laid off an employee in its entire 86-year history, and is opening new stores in more states. It’s also been ranked in the Fortune 100 best companies to work for list for 20 years running.

For these reasons, it’s no coincidence that Publix has happy employees and is seeing record sales and growth. It’s found the perfect formula: invest in great employee programs, and those employees will run your supermarket operations with enthusiasm and dedication. In turn, you achieve smooth operations and your market share grows.

So, How Can You Create Happy Employees?

As a retailer, there’s a lot you can do to keep your employees happy—starting with the following:

1. Employee ownership

Publix is the largest employee-owned company in the world. Employees who have been with the company for one year, and have clocked at least 1,000 hours, receive stock worth 10% of their annual salary. They are then awarded more stock every year after that, and employees also have the option to buy additional stock. To improve employee satisfaction in your organization, it might be worth considering implementing a similar scheme.

2. Competitive benefits

A surefire way to create happier employees is to offer extremely competitive benefits. This could include things such as 401(k) matching, health insurance, tuition reimbursement and holiday bonuses.

3. Stability

One of the best (and easiest) ways to increase morale among associates is to have solid sales and expansion plans, which in turn will provide employees with excellent stability for the future—another critical factor in job satisfaction.

4. Frequent reviews and raises

It’s important for employees to know how they’re doing, and exactly what’s expected of them in their role. With this in mind, consider providing associates with detailed feedback at regular intervals throughout the year. Then, at certain milestones (such as their six-month review), they may qualify for their first raise, and then receive a raise every six months after that.

5. Opportunity for advancement

Close to 100% of the management team at Publix started as entry-level associates. To improve employee morale, encourage your team to pursue a life-long career track and set employment goals. If your associates can see a clear career path and opportunity for progression, they’ll have the energy and enthusiasm to work towards it.

The pursuit of happiness

The ultimate goal is to achieve the perfect partnership between employees and operations. It's easy to see how happy employees ensure successful supermarket operations, and also how the best operations plans lead to happy employees.

For further insight into how the two work hand-in-hand, download our whitepaper, “Investing in Visibility: How Grocers are Gaining Deeper Insights and Driving Operational Success”.


Stefanie Neyland
Stefanie Neyland is a Content Marketing Manager at Mercatus, specializing in all things grocery eCommerce.

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