Retailers looking for answers as to why holiday sales were not as high as expected this Christmas might want to look at their management styles and ask themselves why so many of their staff give their companies the thumbs down as places to work.
A new report by consultancy Hay Group has found that employees in the retail industry provide one of the lowest ratings of their company as a place to work compared to other industries.
The Hay Group Insight Employee Survey Benchmark Report found that product and service quality are also areas of concern. A little more than half (53 per cent) of the retail employees responded favourably on whether the company adapts well to changing market conditions. This compares to almost six out of 10 as a general industry average.
"As retail becomes more and more competitive, stores are open longer hours, staffing is stretched and associates have to work harder and more varied schedules - mandatory weekends, late hours, and split schedules," said Hay Group's Craig Rowley.
"This clearly has an impact on working conditions and climate."
However, the Hay Group Insight Benchmark Report also found that employees in retail report job satisfaction that is clearly favourable and slightly above the general industry norm.
Contributing to workers' feelings of job satisfaction is their strong understanding of how their job relates to their company's overall direction. Retail employees also rated very highly that their job provides them with interesting and challenging work.
Retail respondents gave higher rankings than the general norm in two key areas. Almost nine out of 10 (88 per cent) said they have a clear idea of the results expected from them and more than half (53 per cent) said that poor performance is usually not tolerated.
But could pushy, aggressive management be another reason for retail getting the thumbs down?
While the Hay Group report found that supervisors in the retail industry rated on par with the norm, separate research by New Jersey-based consultants, MOHR Access, suggests that retail managers tend to be hard-driving individuals with dominant interpersonal styles.
"They want to win every encounter and see retailing as ideal for achieving their goals and moving their careers forward," said MOHR Access President Michael Patrick.
"Of course, this assertiveness makes them inclined to conflicts with peers, which again is no surprise."
Patrick added that industry executives do not just exhibit their own personality traits, but are shaped by the retail industry culture.
"Retailing is a zone of quick decisions and direct answers. Its culture values competitiveness and straightforwardness, and punishes foot-dragging, over-analysing or hesitation.
"As many have learned, people who are less assertive may feel overwhelmed in retailing. In this culture high stress and turnover are normal."
Hay's Craig Rowley added the industry's ability measure performance down to the store level (even down to the department level) on an hourly basis was another source of pressure on staff members.
"Because of this ability to monitor and track performance so closely, it's not uncommon to see a 'two bad seasons and you're out' culture in retail."
But despite this, the retail industry's lowest scores came in the competitiveness of their salaries, where fewer than one in five – half the general industry norm - were happy with their pay packets.
"This is not surprising," said Rowley, "given retail's focus on cost control, and the heavy use of part-time employees in the industry. Best practices retailers deal with this by having very effective career progression programs that rapidly promote the best performers to higher paying jobs."
However, the esteem with which employees hold other members of their work group, at least when it comes to cooperation received, was well below average.
"Human resource executives should take a look at compensation, turnover, tenure, and career advancement opportunities in their organisations and analyse how they compare to their competitors and top performing companies," said Tom Agnew, a senior consultant with Hay Group Insight.
"This was not a one or two question 'quick poll.' In these employee surveys, we ask a broad set of questions, helping companies better understand what drives their performance and results."