This part-time frontline retail employee quit after only four weeks and onboarding was to blame

“My kid just quit her new job!”

This was a direct quote uttered by one of my colleagues while reading a text from her daughter, who had recently landed a job working for a popular retail chain. My first thought was, “Maybe this is just a flaky kid?” Nope. It turns out she’s actually the opposite of flaky: A+ student; strong work ethic; has successfully balanced school, dance and part-time jobs since she was 14 years old.

A retail associate helping a customer select clothing
Photo by phduet / Freepik


So what happened this time? It turns out her onboarding experience consisted of taking in a tsunami of information, delivered in long, boring sessions that left her feeling drained and overloaded with information. After the “official” onboarding period ended, her training abruptly stopped, and she was released out onto the floor to serve customers. While she did her best, she’s only human, and we humans quickly forget what we’ve learned if the information isn’t reinforced (hello, forgetting curve!) As a result, she felt out of her element, unsure if she was doing the right things and unclear on how to get past the hurdles. Being new, she also hadn’t formed any strong connections with coworkers yet. As the weeks progressed, she felt increasingly disconnected from the brand and her team. She handed in her resignation after only four weeks on the job.

First impressions have a lasting impact

This employee’s story is, unfortunately, all too common in the retail space. The typical onboarding experience goes like this:

  • An accelerated onboarding period firehoses information at the new employee in a way that’s hard to absorb
  • Onboarding abruptly stops after a set period of time and the employee is transitioned out onto the frontlines to perform
  • Since they aren’t receiving ongoing attention or training reinforcement, employees quickly forget what they learned in onboarding
  • They start to lose confidence and develop bad habits
  • Many, like my colleague’s daughter, quit their jobs before 45 days have even passed—we call this the “Red Zone,” and it costs retailers millions every year

Diagram of the onboarding red zone

Here’s some good news: it doesn’t have to be this way. If we just shift our mindset from this idea that onboarding must have discrete start and end date, to allowing onboarding to be a continuous activity, the Red Zone would cease to exist.

If we focused up front on just the key things employees needed to know to function on the floor, instead of the universe of things they could potentially need to know, how much easier would it be to remember?

If we continued to measure and fill knowledge gaps with personalized knowledge for the duration of their employment, how much more skilled would they be?

If we delivered ongoing training in fun, engaging, easy-to-remember bursts each shift, how much more confident would they feel in front of customers?

Engagement matters. Big time. Want to know how your efforts are stacking up? Take the quiz to find out if you’re effectively engaging your frontline.


Continuous onboarding is the answer

This continuous onboarding model is possible now for retailers who are ready to embrace the shift. And the sooner the better, with seasonal hiring on the horizon. According to Craig Rowley, Korn Ferry Senior Partner, Retail and Customer, “Retailers are in a Catch 22 situation this holiday season. While high consumer confidence and a strong economy mean year-over-year sales are predicted to grow, low unemployment means there just won’t be enough workers to fill retail positions.”

Whether your goal is to keep employees in place longer, or get take them from seasonal to seasoned faster, implementing a continuous onboarding strategy will have a huge impact on your success. Find out how.

Caily is our resident retail whiz with a passion for CX. She’s spent more than a decade partnering with industry leaders to ensure success in strategic planning and omnichannel execution of national programs—so she knows the deal when it comes to the retail industry.

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