10 Ways to Motivate Retail Staff During the Holidays

We all know how impactful the holiday shopping period is to every retailer. And it’s only getting bigger. 

According to the historical sales data by the National Retail Federation, holiday retail sales have more than doubled over the last 20 years.

You’re busy coordinating promotions and campaigns, visual merchandising plans, expedited shipping options — the list doesn’t end. 

One important task to remember? Motivate your retail staff.

Here’s why and how: 

Why you should motivate your retail staff during the holidays

When done, here is content other readers find helpful:

Before we talk about how to motivate staff during this stressful time, let’s talk about why. First, we understand that this is the most important time of year for almost every retail business. It’s when most sales happen and you have the most opportunities to convert new and existing customers

90% of shoppers are more likely to make an in-store purchase when helped by knowledgeable staff.  A mismanaged team can also ruin your chances at success. A bad holiday season can ruin your entire year.

Remember, this translates to seasonal hires too. In the U.S., retailers hire more than 700,000 seasonal staff members for the holidays. Target alone hired around 100,000 employees for the 2022 season. They’re just as important to your brand as your permanent, full-timers because customers do not know the difference between seasonal and regular employees. Both represent your brand; both are responsible for creating a great customer experience.

Related: 7 Ways to Maximize Retail Staff Productivity

1. Money

The surest way to motivate any staff member is by paying a fair, favorable, and competitive wage. Beyond an attractive hourly rate, offer other monetary incentives. Pay double for holiday hours, offer awards for high performances, payout a holiday bonus, give the gift of cash — whatever way you need to package it, any staff member will appreciate the financial boost.

Money is the quickest way to make an hourly staff member feel invested in your company. “With seasonal hires, the unfortunate truth is that their loyalty to the company is generally low,” Ty Tucker, CEO of performance management platform REV, says/said. “They’re there to do a job and get paid for it, thus, the outcome is generally irrelevant to them.” 

2. Provide adequate training

Creating top-performing employees starts with onboarding and training. “Provide really thoughtful, empowering training,” says Chris Guillot of Merchant Method. You want each staff member to feel confident and in control on the sales floor.

The most effective training is done in multiple ways. Some are visual learners, while others learn by doing. And others still absorb information best when they can read it. That’s why it’s important to provide training collateral and sessions in multiple contexts and formats. 

As noted above, though seasonal staff may be temporary, your customers don’t know that. Every employee is a representation of your brand, and it’s up to you to ensure each staff member is empowered with the ability to represent your brand accurately. Last, the training should be consistent for both temporary and permanent hires so everyone is on the same page. 

3. Schedule seasonal staff with top staff

“To maintain an adequate level of confidence, managers have to continue to empower associates,” Guillot says. You’ll want to keep an eye on who those top managers are and pair them with shifts heavy on the temp worker side. 

Generally speaking, you’ll want a healthy balance of seasonal workers and full-timers. This will also give temps the chance to learn the ropes from colleagues in addition to managers. 

4. Value everyone’s time

This goes for seasonal and permanent hires alike — time is valuable, and especially so during the busy holiday season. Remember, your employees have lives outside of work: schoolwork to do, friends and family to spend time with, and hobbies to pursue. 

“Make sure standing meetings don’t become empty or hollow,” Guillot says. “They should become motivation-focused, not so much tactically focused.” 

She says this boils down to your planning: If you’ve planned well, your management team already knows how to execute tactically. It’s managing the people where they need to be flexible and focused. “In-season management is more for morale management and troubleshooting,” says Guillot. 

It’s also important to give appropriate breaks. Working a four-hour holiday shift is a lot more taxing than a four-hour shift on a random Monday. “Take unexpected or unplanned breaks in the day or transform what would be a regular staff meeting into a true party,” Guillot recommends. “I love the unexpected twist on something that’s very regular.”

5. Be generous with scheduling

On that note, Guillot also says it’s important to be flexible with scheduling during the holidays. Hire as many temporary staff as you’ll need to cover all the necessary shifts and avoid burning anyone out. 

Time off during a busy season is almost always appreciated. “It could be thought of as employee benefits, but when you package it and you’re able to really give time off during peak periods, then it really comes across as a gift,” says Guillot. “No one would ever think that a half-day of work is a gift, but during peak seasonality for someone who works a retail floor, that’s a true gift.”

You want to ensure you’re not undercutting anyone’s hours and, effectively, their paycheck too. Survey new and existing staff on how many hours they’d ideally work during the season and do your best to meet those wishes, within reason. Remind them that honesty is key here, and it won’t be held against them. Allow shift-swapping so employees can take control of their own schedules. 

To avoid staff burnout, It’s also important to avoid doubling up on holidays, unless your staff is okay with it. For example, if they work Black Friday, give them off Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. 

6. Automate what you can

There are some repetitive, tedious tasks that are better suited to machines than people — especially during a busy period. 72% of business managers feel overwhelmed by their roles and responsibilities — automating will help with that.

Consider automation for tasks like order fulfillment, post-purchase communication, tech support, and even your store audit process for merchandising and operational checklists. Using tools to cut down on paperwork and repetitive tasks will make a huge difference to your staff’s stress level and your bottom line. 

Related: 7 Manual Processes Every Retailer Should Quit Doing

Unless you do it on time, in full, at every site, you are not executing at all

7. Help with their holiday needs

If you offer employee discounts throughout the year, the holiday season is a reason to offer even more. Here are some ideas: 

  • Increase the employee discount
  • Allow staff to share discounts with friends and family
  • Give staff the option to take advantage of customer coupons and promotions on top of their employee discount
  • Offer one free product up to $X

If your staff isn’t likely to shop at your store, let them take advantage of your own holiday benefits such as discounted, expedited, or on-site shipping. 

8. Give gifts to express appreciation

’Tis the season of giving, and employers can get in on the action too. The key here is to be thoughtful. Rather than purchasing the same item to distribute to each team member, consider a thoughtful note, donation to a cause they’re passionate about, or their favorite candy bar.

You might need to tap into your store managers for some advice. It doesn’t need to be expensive, but it does need to be personal.

That’s not to say team-wide gifts aren’t welcome. Free meals and high-quality gifts can also lift your staff’s spirits during the peak period. 

9. Be inclusive

Remember, not everyone celebrates Christmas. There are some staff members who celebrate other holidays at this time. It’s important to be respectful of these differences, though not intrusive. 

Rather than asking staff members what their religious orientation is or how they celebrate their sacred holidays, give them the option of marking which holidays they’d like off. 

10. Think beyond the season

The holidays span no more than two months, but the impacts last well beyond that. The same goes for your staff members too. 

Do a thorough post-mortem to determine who the top performers were and if it’d be beneficial to offer them a permanent or full-time role. 

If you can’t hire any seasonal workers beyond the holidays, help them make the next step in their career. Proactively write reference letters for each staff member.

You can also consider referring them to other employers you know looking for reliable employees — you could even go so far as to create a hiring referral network with other employers in your area or connections. 

Moving forward with your holiday season

Managing and motivating staff is just one task on a long list of to-dos during the holiday season. It’s important to keep them engaged to help contribute to your sales goals.

For more advice on having a successful holiday season, check out these articles: 

About the author:


Alexandra Sheehan

Alex is a copywriter who works with B2B companies in the retail, e-commerce, and travel sectors to create strategies and expert longform, website, and blog content. You can see her work on sites like Shopify, Vend, Stitch Labs, Money Under 30, and more. thealexsheehan.com.

One thought on “10 Ways to Motivate Retail Staff During the Holidays

  1. Be quick to respond to customers concerns. Have available managers to address customers issues promptly. Let customers know of any available discounts and return policies. Try online ordering and store pickup if items are not available in store. Have available associates to help customers take large packages to their vehicles. Make certain associates are engaging the customers.

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