5 ways retailers can measure employee engagement 

Posted on: July 2, 2024Updated on: July 4, 2024By: Emily Smith

What is the retail workforce experience? An associate working behind a register comes to mind, or someone on the floor helping customers. But the retail workforce spans a much broader scope of people across multiple markets and myriad teams, from logistics, distribution and warehouse to customer-facing roles that can make the employee experience disparate and varied. And so too can the experience these workers face be disparate and varied—especially when the tools, support and resources they have access to aren’t consistent and aligned. 

In other words: retail brings together an interconnected but highly diversified network of workers like no other, but that can lead to fractures and disconnects in the employee experience. That’s where employee engagement comes in. 

Far too often, employee engagement is seen as intangible, vague—a nice-to-have to keep workers happy and loyal. But retail employee engagement is far more powerful than that. Engagement has the ability to unite and align the sometimes-massive workforces that retailers employ under one guiding light. It can rally workforces toward common goals and common driving forces. If it’s done right. 

It’s not enough to offer up opportunities for team members to connect to head office or engage with their peers. A proper employee engagement plan requires the same measurement, strategy and tactics as any campaign (check out our Retail Employee Engagement playbook for a full step-by-step approach!). 

But the first step is gauging where your associates are at right now. According to Gallup’s ongoing meta-analysis of employee engagement, 31% of employees in Canada and the U.S. are engaged, and a whopping 52% of disengaged. But every industry, and every workforce, is different. So measuring employee engagement for your people is critical to the success of any employee engagement strategy. 

Warning: this is where things can sometimes go off the rails—especially in a retail organization with hundreds of thousands of team members spanning various departments and banners. But there are ways to learn how engaged your workforce is, no matter the scale.

Here are five employee engagement measurement tactics to try with your retail workforce:

Tactic 1: Deploy pulse surveys 

We know what you’re thinking—you hear surveys and instantly roll your eyes. There’s no shortage of articles talking about the challenges of employee surveys, but it remains a tried and tested method—if it’s done right—for a reason. 

But if you fail to take the time to ask the right questions, or try to share surveys in the wrong places, you won’t get the kind of answers you’re looking for. That’s why pulse surveys are a great option. That way, you can foster a feedback culture—and your employees get used to the regular cadence of being asked how they’re doing. Plus, sticking to one or two questions allows for easier data collection and quicker analysis. 

Rather than asking general questions like “Are you engaged?” or “Are you happy at work?” try gearing your pulses around a specific pillar to better gauge what your workforce is currently getting. Here are some examples: 

  • Do you feel like [your organization] invests in your development and growth?
  • Do you feel heard at [your organization]? 
  • On a scale of 1-10, how safe do you feel at work?

Tactic 2: Run feedback forums 

Employee feedback forums are an online communication channel where employees aren’t just sending insights and feedback up to head office, they’re engaging with each other’s comments and insights as well. This is more of an open channel where workers can build on other peoples’ ideas, especially around a specific topic or question. 

Again, keep your forums as specific as possible to capture the valuable intel easily. Topics for forums could be: 

  • Do you have what you need to do your best every day at [your organization]? 
  • How connected are you to [your organization]’s mission and purpose?
  • What are some ways we could build a stronger employee community at [your organization]? 

The value of forums is that it’s a more open response; meaning there’s a stronger opportunity to uncover issues or learnings you didn’t know you were missing out on. But this method of collecting employee feedback has its challenges too—if you’re bringing thousands of employees into a forum, you need to ensure you have the right tools in place to capture common sentiments and great ideas at scale. For example, one way to use forums to uncover common sentiment is to use upvoting to surface the most popular responses

Tactic 3: Review other available metrics 

There are other metrics that will help you understand how engaged your people are. Depending how digitized your employee experience is, some of these metrics may be easier to capture than others. 

Voluntary turnover rate 

The number of people who have left your organization of their own volition against the average number of employees overall. A high turnover rate means that an above-average number of employees are quitting. 

One important note: What constitutes a “high turnover rate” will vary according to a number of factors, e.g. location, industry and your own historical benchmarks. This is true of all these employee red flags, but especially turnover. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2024’s seasonally adjusted quit rate for accommodation and food services was 4.5%, while in finance and insurance it was 0.9% and in retail it was 2.8%. Determining whether your turnover rate is too high requires context in order to understand what your data is showing.

Reachability rate 

The number of employees that you can communicate with. Usually, reachability refers to the percentage of employees who are in your employee technology or tools and used it within the past 90 days. Low reachability means that a large portion of your employees aren’t, well, reachable. Or that your access points are ineffective, hard to access or confusing to use. 

Feedback participation 

With the right tech in place, organizations can track how many team members are delivering feedback through surveys, forums or other channels. A low participation rate can be a major red flag for disengagement, lack of psychological safety—and high risk of turnover. 

Knowledge gaps 

Disconnects between what you need your employees to know and what they actually know are a problem for many reasons. Beyond the operational and safety concerns, these gaps highlight a team’s inability to do their jobs properly. And that can lead to disengagement very quickly. While you might be able to capture this anecdotally at the manager or district level, to truly measure gaps at scale, a frontline learning or enablement solution makes things much easier. 

Employee advocacy 

Tracking employee advocacy is a good way of measuring employee engagement overall, especially among new employees: an engaged worker is more likely to be an advocate of your brand. Employee NPS scores measure how “recommendable” your company is as a good place to work. eNPS tracks whether people in your organization are promoters (likely to talk up the company), passives (unlikely to talk about the company either positively or negatively) or distractors (employees who have issues with the company). A low eNPS means you have more distractors and fewer promoters. Employee advocacy can also be measured through other review and advocacy channels, like Glassdoor. 

Tactic 4: Store visits

A common practice of some of the most engaged retailers? Leaders that make face time with their frontlines. Work with your associates, head into the warehouse and see first-hand how they’re feeling. 

“We all know the power of being present. When you’re able to be present both mentally and physically, it magnifies the opportunity to influence and affect behavior,” explains retail training and consulting firm MOHR Retail

“Multiple points of feedback and assessment occur during a store visit. Just by walking in, you will get a sense of the ambiance and energy of the location. A store visit also allows the DM to observe the team and clients interact with each other. Likewise, the store manager can get a much better sense of your message and expectations when they see and hear you react in person. These are things you can only fully understand by physically being present.”

Tactic 5: Do an enablement assessment 

We’ve already talked about how an engaged staff is connected, agile, in-the-know, safety-focused, feedback-forward, celebrated and nurtured. Another way to capture whether these needs are being met is to assess how you’re enabling your people. Our quiz, How enabled is your frontline, will help you assess this. Answer 20 questions to get a better understanding of how much support you’re giving your people—and how enabled they are as a result.

The first step in building an engagement plan isn’t to invest in new technology, or embrace a modern approach to training and enablement (though both might be crucial later on). The way you can get started on improving and operationalizing your approach to employee engagement is to begin gathering information, listening to your people and learning about what adjustments you can make—today. And when you’re ready to put that data to use, get our Retail Employee Engagement Playbook for the ultimate field guide to engaging and enabling every single worker in your organization—from cashiers to distribution—at any scale.

Emily Smith

Emily Smith is an industry specialist obsessed with the retail employee experience.

Read More by Emily Smith