Supermarket executives no longer need to be convinced that employee hiring and retention are among the most important issues facing this industry.
The question is no longer if there is a problem, but what to do about it?
Industry associations have unveiled numerous solutions and many companies are visiting university food marketing programs to convince students that a retail career is an attractive option. Still other companies are seeking to connect with high schools and their students to boost in-store work forces for jobs ranging from bagger to stock clerk.
A recent report titled "The Teenage Worker: Retention and Motivation Study" is a useful read for these companies. The essence is this: The key motivating factor for teens isn't "show me the money," but rather "give me a good supervisor and a work environment I can be proud of."
The report was written by St. Louis-based management consultants Fred Martels and Kathy Pennell, who surveyed 352 teens in St. Louis and in Rochester, N.Y., employed in industries ranging from grocery/convenience stores to restaurants. Martels is the former vice president of human resources at St. Louis-based Dierbergs Markets.
The research found that money was the biggest work motivator only for employees who felt their organization was below average. Money had far less motivational value for those who believed their company was a better performer than average. So if income wasn't the overriding draw, what did these teens view as important?
Their relationships with supervisors and co-workers were a major factor in job satisfaction. In fact, this report often reads like a primer in good relationships, in this case the bond between employee and supervisor. The research found that teens who believe their organizations are among the best say they get recognition from supervisors when they do a good job. These teens also believe they get motivation and clear directions from supervisors and say their bosses don't play favorites. Those employees who don't feel so good about their company have less positive attitudes toward supervisors.
"When it comes to motivating and retaining today's teen workers, our research shows that the ball falls squarely and solidly in the manager's or supervisor's court," the report states.
The authors offer advice and action steps to boost teen employee retention. Among them are the following:
The quality of co-workers is a key motivating factor to teen employees. Retailers are advised to build team players carefully and get referrals from good employees.
Teens dislike -- no, they despise -- boring work. But their jobs can seem a lot more interesting if the supervisor plays his or her role right. Clear directions give teens a greater sense of accomplishment. Gradually they feel more pride and less boredom. Also helpful are job rotation, enlargement and enrichment, and competitions that make tasks seem less routine.
Teens need a lot of training because they are new to the workplace. Supervisors are advised to demonstrate, observe and provide feedback. And check in later to make sure they are continuing to perform their roles correctly. But training is not effective unless it is linked to a "strategic objective or desired outcome, not just to a job function."