How to Motivate Your Retail Employees at the Start of the Year

January doldrums — that feeling of low energy and lack of spirit that many people get at the beginning of the year — is quite common in retail. Retail employees, having just come back from the holiday break may not be in full “work mode” yet.

If you’re dealing with low spirits and lack of motivation in your store, fret not. We’ve put together some handy tips to help keep your employees motivated right after the holidays.

Check them out.

Understand the science behind motivation

Before diving into specific tactics, let’s take a moment to understand what exactly drives people and what motivates them to take action. Doing so will help you determine how to best apply the tips in the rest of this post.

So, what gets people going? How do you motivate them when they’re feeling the January slump?

According to Kerry Goyette, the Founder of Aperio Consulting Group, people are generally driven by two types of things: seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.

The pleasure-seeking side is about achievement and ambition. For instance, a person who is aspirational by nature is highly motivated towards earning their degree or taking their career to the next level.

The pain avoidance side, on the other hand, is all about dodging unpleasant things. So this could be a student who works hard because they don’t want to flunk out of school. Or, it could be the accountant who takes extra care with his client’s tax returns to avoid trouble with the IRS.

Kerry says that people have a tendency to be highly motivated either on the pleasure side OR the pain side. And as an employer or manager, you need to figure out which side an employee belongs because that will determine how you present tasks and goals to them.

For instance, let’s say you have a sales associate named Jane, and she’s highly motivated by pleasure. In this case, you’ll want to talk to her about achieving sales targets and how great it would it be to take the company to next level.

Now, let’s say you have a clerk named Jack, and he’s primarily motivated by pain. That aspirational speech you gave Jane may not unlock Jack’s motivation, so you’ll want to take a different approach.

In Jack’s case, you’ll probably want to talk about the pains that need to be avoided. For instance, you could mention the effects of lousy customer service — i.e., having a store filled with cranky people or losing shoppers to the competition. 

So, before you start trying out motivational tactics, spend some time getting to know what drives the different members of your team. Which employees are motivated by pleasure and which ones are motivated by pain avoidance? Figure that out, and adjust your methods accordingly.

And if you want to learn more about the science of motivation, you can check out Kerry’s TED Talk below:

Key takeaways:

  • People typically have two primary motivations: there’s the motivation to seek pleasure and the motivation to avoid pain.
  • Someone who’s driven by pleasure tends to be more ambitious and aspirational, while a person who’s motivated by pain avoidance is good at mitigating risks.
  • To unlock someone’s motivation, you need to figure out which motivation (i.e. pleaure or pain-avoidance) drives them, and then tailor your approach accordingly.

Equip your team with tools that make their job easier

Tedious admin tasks like data entry, inventory counts, or reconciling records are about as motivating as getting a root canal. Most people are already face difficulty executing these jobs on a normal day, so they’re going to be extra challenging when your employees are facing the January blues.

So do them (and yourself) a favor by replacing old fashioned systems with digital or cloud-based solutions. For instance, if you need to count your inventory by hand (a common to-do at the start of the year), get yourself and your a stock counting app that can streamline the process.

Do your employees have to deal with a tremendous amount of data entry? Automate tasks by integrating your solutions. Let’s say you constantly have to reconcile your online orders with your physical inventory. Consider integrating your POS system and ecommerce platform so that data flows easily from one solution to the next.

Key takeaways:

  • January can be a challenging period. Don’t make it harder on yourself or your team by continuing to do manual or inefficient tasks.
  • Find ways to digitize proceses you typically do by hand (e.g., recording inventory counts.)

Set the right example

If you’re the owner or manager of the store, always remember that your staff will take their cue from you. That’s why it’s vital that you be on the floor yourself and actually perform those tasks that you want your staff to do.

“Maybe nothing inspires a team more than seeing the manager getting their hands dirty and really doing his or her part to help on the floor level,” says Cord Himelstein, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at HALO Recognition.

“If an employee is still in ‘vacation mode,’ verbal motivation can only go so far. Employers and managers must also be the example of the desired behavior.”

So, go out there and spend time on the sales floor. Talk to your customers. Help them find what they need. Ring up sales. Aside from setting the right example and motivating your staff to do their part, you’ll also get the chance to have some face time with shoppers and gain insights that you won’t get from just staying at the back.

Key takeaways:

  • Remember that your employees are watching you.
  • The best way to get them to act is to lead by example.
  • Don’t just spend all your time in your office. Make an appearance on the sales floor and get some face time with your customers.

Redefine your goals

The right goals can motivate and set up your employees for success. Be sure to kick off each day or shift by outlining your metrics for success. You want people to know what they’re working towards.

Also note that your goals at this time of the year may be a little different than your goals for say, the Christmas season. As Marc Prosser, co-founder at says, “In the holiday season, the metric for success is sales.”

“Now, change the metric to producing exceptional experiences among those coming into the store. The return process can be an opportunity for customer service to shine. Were returns fast? Did the associate do a good job explaining the return policy? Did the associate ask what the customer may be needing for the new year?”

Think about any goal changes you may have for your staff, then communicate those KPIs.

It’s also helpful to keep those key metrics and goals visible. Utilize dashboards that give managers and associates and at-a-glance view of their performance. Doing so, keeps these goals top of mind and can help drive positive behavior at the start of the year.

Another tip? Make those goals short-term and reward those who achieve them.

That’s what Innovent Healthcare does to motivate their staff. We like to set short-term (within 30-45 days), achievable goals for our staff to drive up the serotonin and instill confidence in our team,” shares Kathryn Kerrigan, who works on the marketing side for Innovent Healthcare.

“By achieving such goals, a team member may receive a small gift card or an inexpensive but relevant gift (awesome new Bluetooth keyboard/mouse) OR simply their name and face on our wall for a few weeks.”

Key takeaways:

  • Your “start of the year” goals may be a little different from your holiday season goals.
  • Be sure to identify your new goals, metrics, and KPIs and communicate them to your employees.
  • For best results, stick to short-term goals and set rewards.

Show empathy

Let your staff know that you understand where they’re coming from. A simple “I know how you feel” can do wonders for someone’s morale.

“Communicate that you’re aware everyone is coming back from vacation and sincerely ask them to put their best foot forward. Show sympathy and compassion, and be a friend about it. A pre-opening huddle is a great opportunity to set proper expectations, and is a common touch-base method in retail settings,” advises Cord.

Demonstrating empathy also helps break that “us against them” mentality that employees may have about their managers or employers. It reinforces that the fact you’re all on the same side — and that, in itself is a comforting (and motivating) thing.

Key takeaways:

  • Put yourself in the shoes of your staff members. Strive to understand where they’re coming from.
  • Let them know that you understand how they feel and that you empathize with them.
  • Help them see that you’re all on the same side and that you need to work together to achieve the overall goals of the business.

Celebrate the wins of your team

“Placing extra emphasis on recognizing and celebrating wins throughout the day is another great way to create more value and interest in the work of employees. Be generous with praise, high fives, and fist-bumps. If you have an employee rewards system, use it,” adds Cord.

How exactly should you reward your employees? That depends. Some employers give personalized rewards and come up with a present specifically for the top performer. For others, more general tokens — such as gift cards, cash, pizza parties — will do the trick.

Find out what works for your team and your budget and go from there.

Key takeaways:

  • Reward employees who are hitting their KPIs.
  • Consider giving personalized gifts or go for general tokens such as cash, gift cards, food, etc.

Provide extra comforts

It’s tough to power through the post-holiday slump, so offer some small comforts for your team.

“On days you know will be extra-busy or stressful, it never hurts to provide extra creature comforts like free coffee, breakfast, and more flexible breaks. Employees will appreciate the extra gesture, and it places more value on the work and their time,” advises Cord.

Kathryn echoes the point about flexibility, saying that flexible hours make it easier for employees transition from the post-holiday season.

“We like to be flexible within the first few weeks after the holiday season. This may be a little longer lunch, shaving 15-20 minutes off the workday or a surprise early release on a Friday,” she shares.

“We know that by allowing our employees to work in a natural rhythm (albeit – still producing work and maintaining job objectives), we will see a higher level of job productivity, which makes our company more successful. Also… everyone is happier, and we have fun.”

Key takeaways:

  • Keep people motivated by giving small perks.
  • A popular perk is offering flexibility with breaks and shifts.

Your turn

Now we’d like to hear from you. Are you experiencing a post-holiday slump in your business? How are you coping with it? Let us know in the comments.

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.