More than 900 senior executives attended the 10th annual Great Place to Work Conference that was staged in Los Angeles last week to focus on the art and science of creating workplace engagement, job satisfaction, and happy employees. Just reading that sentence causes involuntary eye-rolling from plenty of leaders in the U.S. retail industry who either don't think it's necessary or don't think it's possible for a retail environment to be a "great" place to work.
Can You Find Happiness in Retail?
There's plenty of evidence to support the eye-rolling leaders in their belief that happiness, engagement, and satisfaction may not be possible to attain in a retail workplace these days. Not only are retail employees participating in walkouts and mini-strikes in major cities, but also a 2013 survey conducted by Manpower Group revealed that 74% of the survey participants were occasionally or often using their computer to look for a new job while on the clock at their current job. That's not exactly a marker for job satisfaction.
Another survey from CareerBliss.com produced a "50 Happiest Companies in America for 2013" ranking list, based on more than 100,000 employee-written reviews. Of the 50 companies on that "Happy" list, the only companies that have even a remote connection to the retail industry are companies that have retailing as a significant, but not primary, part of their business like Apple (AAPL), Dell (DELL), Ford (F), and Google (GOOG).
Where are companies who only sell retail?
You can find those retail companies filling up the Worst Retail Companies to Work For list instead. And not surprisingly, the retail companies that employees rate as being the "worst" places to work are also some of the retail companies that are floundering in 2013 - Radio Shack (RSH), Sears/Kmart (SHLD), Rite Aid (RAD), and GameStop (GME). Could it be that there is a correlation between happy employees and retail sales performance? That's a cutting-edge managerial hypothesis, eh?
Retail experts often get lost in a chicken-egg debate about whether unhappy employees are at the root cause of their struggles, or whether, after the company started struggling and started demanding more and caring less that its employees became unhappy. "Both" is almost always the answer to that discussion. But even if it's one or the other, the important point is that there is a connection between happy employees and company performance.
An awareness that happy employees produce happy results is not helpful to the retail leaders who have the chronic conditions of low pay and limited advancement working against them. Additionally, the retail industry is often viewed as having the "jobs of last resort" for those who can't find work in their own field. There are plenty of those wrongly employed people working in the U.S. retail industry right now.