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Attention Retail Brands: Employee Experience Design can Change the Great Resignation into the Great Retention

On the NBC sitcom Superstore, set inside a fictional Midwest big-box store, the manager, Glenn, is portrayed as an eternal optimist who usually manages to get it wrong while trying to do right by his employees. He may get points for effort (and laughs from viewers at home), but in the real retail world, good intentions don’t keep employees fulfilled, engaged and connected to their work. Perhaps what this fictional retail store, as well as real ones, actually needs is the power of Employee Experience Design.

If you’re unfamiliar with Employee Experience Design, consider it in much the same way you would customer service experience, but for your staff. The goal is to create meaning with employees the same way you do with other customers, by producing messaging that speaks directly to them and their current needs.

Employee experience is the sum of employees’ attitudes as they work within their organizations every day, not just when they come on board or that particular moment when they fill out an employee satisfaction survey. Don’t confuse it with your overall company culture. Corporate culture is a collective sum of behaviors within the organization, such as what your company rewards and discourages. Employee Experience is about individual perceptions of their daily work. They are separate but certainly interrelated.

What does Employee Experience look like in action? It could be anything from a new performance incentive program to beta testing new ideas with your team (and then using their insights), a video that meets them where they are (email, social, etc.), or utilizing journey mapping to identify and solve the barriers that prevent them from doing their best job. It’s all about taking a page from your customer experience playbook and adapting it to your team.

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Gone are the days when a 10% discount on merchandise was enough of a perk to retain retail employees long-term. Today, post-COVID, it’s paramount for leadership to stop using whether your employees are ‘happy’ as a barometer of job satisfaction. Fulfillment in one’s job extends way beyond happiness. Retail employees in particular are fulfilled, and therefore likely to be retained, when management ‘gets’ what they need to do their best work, and links those demands with what the business needs from them to be successful.

Turnover is nothing new in retail, but in March 2020 the industry was hit particularly hard. For those who kept their jobs, the unpredictability of the virus caused stress levels to skyrocket, leaving retail workers with an income that often did not make this situation worthwhile. Many employees have no desire for the same situation as retailers return to pre-pandemic capacity.

The truth is, many major retailers haven’t historically focused on their staff experience, but any retail brand not worried about the needs of their current employees and where their future workforce will come from is missing out on a critical component of long-term business success.

The solution needs to include Employee Experience Design. Whether trying to retain customer service agents or senior management staff, placing an emphasis on employee experience will create a positive ripple effect for your business.

Here are some main pointers to remember:

  • To guarantee that your ideas are real and resonate with your employees, ‘test market’ them to them. And if you ask for employee input, act on it. Bringing employees on board will make what you’re doing feel less like a marketing strategy.
  • Create content that speaks to your workers on their terms. This might be in the form of an email, a video or social media. Be platform-agnostic: focus on the message, not the medium.
  • Employees are just as vital to businesses as consumers, so encourage them to be brand ambassadors for the brand on social media.
  • Consider the culture of your organization via the prism of your brand — not just as an HR function.
  • Consider and support the whole person, and don’t only measure employee success by the work they are producing. It’s possible an employee is producing great work but is also going through a crisis. Making available physical and emotional health programs, such as counseling and coaching resources, is priceless for both employees and employers. 

There’s a change in how workers view their jobs and their employers. They have options like never before, with more retailers offering higher wages, more flexible hours and even signing bonuses. Designing experiences for your employees the way you would customers may just be the best tool in your arsenal to avoid your workers canceling their jobs like a low-rated sitcom.


Katie Wagner is SVP of Client Services at full-service BX, CX and EX Liquid Agency. With over 20 years of experience, she has led multi-disciplinary agency teams to develop brand strategies, integrated brand experiences and employee brand engagement programs for a wide range of companies. Wagner’s passion and experience in building authentic brands has enabled her to serve in a trusted agency-side role as part practice lead, part agency team leader and overall strategic advisor. She draws on her diverse background to ensure that the agency is doing the right work in support of culture design and employee experience, so that it resonates with her clients’ brand objectives and positively impacts their employees, customers and business.

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