C-stores Tackle Turnover Through Employee Engagement


NATIONAL REPORT — Attracting top-quality employees who are looking to stay with a company for the long haul is the ultimate goal for any retailer, but many continue to struggle with turnover — especially when it comes to entry-level positions.

According to the Convenience Store News 2016 HR & Labor Study, the turnover rate for store associates in the convenience store industry stands around 54 percent, with many reporting this number increased over the previous year.

Also, in the past year, a number of c-store chains have announced hiring sprees, including some of the biggest and well-known names in the industry: Speedway LLC, Wawa Inc., Sheetz Inc., Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores Inc., and more. Sheetz also invested $15 million to increase employee wages in an effort to remain competitive and attract top talent.

The majority of convenience store industry turnover comes from entry-level store associates. Length of employment increases as people move up the ladder. Store associates stay for an average of 2.2 years, assistant managers for 3.2 years, and store managers for 6.4 years, according to the CSNews HR & Labor Study, which also found turnover was attributed to competing businesses, wages, benefits, and dismissal for cause.

Turnover costs companies time and money. Retailers incur the additional cost of recruiting and replacing that employee, and they lose the training dollars they invested in that person, said Bruce Tulgan, founder of RainmakerThinking Inc., a management research, training and consulting firm.

Still, he acknowledged, not all turnover is bad. “Your goal should not be to eliminate turnover among potential employees. That’s never going to happen. Your goal should be to take control of the turnover among potential employees. You want the high performers to stay and the low performers to go,” he said.

At Sheetz, the retailer’s data showed the chain was losing people because employees couldn’t make a living on part-time hours. Sheetz invested heavily in increasing its wages for hourly employees, but also took into consideration the number of hours given to employees, which is just as important, Stephanie Doliveira, vice president of human resources at Sheetz, told Convenience Store News. The thinking was that if they could get more people working full-time hours, they could hopefully retain them.

“You could pay $20 an hour, but if you only give someone five hours a week, they can’t make ends meet,” Doliveira explained. “It’s about paying a better wage and giving enough hours to attract and ultimately retain.”

Sheetz announced plans last year to hire 8,000 new people for its growing company, which opens approximately 30 new stores each year. This hiring push was not only to address company growth, but also to fill turnover, Doliveira said. The chain’s investment in wages has helped them attract a “great applicant flow.”

Sheetz also believes in promoting from within and is always looking to identify internal candidates who have the potential to grow into management roles. More than 95 percent of Sheetz’s store managers are promoted from within.

“We also invest a lot in culture and engagement to ensure we have a great work environment for our employees, and we recognize them for tenure in several different ways,” Doliveira said. For example, Sheetz offers an employee stock ownership program for those who have been with the company for one year. When they meet certain requirements, employees have the opportunity to gain ownership. And every team member is eligible for a bonus, which is aimed at retention.

“The bonus is related to company profitability and key operational metrics, such as food safety and customer service,” said Doliveira.

One of the best ways to learn what employees want and what needs to be changed in order to increase job satisfaction is to listen to current and former employees, she advised. This is done at Sheetz through engagement surveys, asking how everything is going so far, what they like, and if they intend to stay. For those who leave the company, it’s also important to find out why — wages, training, their boss, etc.

“You also need to act on what your employees tell you,” she noted. “Diagnosing the causes is critical, and then making the improvements.”

Employees should be asked what is needed from the organization on the first day of employment and then throughout their employment, Tulgan said. They need to know there is someone who knows what they want and need, and that someone cares.

“Start talking with potential employees about retention on day one, and keep talking about it. If you are talking with them about how to meet their needs and wants on an ongoing basis, they are much more likely to talk with you at those key points when they are trying to decide whether to leave or stay,” he said.

“If you are willing to work with them, you can be flexible and generous. That’s how you make them want to stay and work harder, at least for a little while longer,” Tulgan continued. “Years from now, the potential employees who turn out to be long-term employees will be the ones who decided over and over again that they wanted to stay a little while longer.”

Employee engagement can have a significant impact on retention, and can help create brand advocates who will recruit for the company, according to Steven Kramer, CEO of WorkJam, which offers an employee engagement mobile app for hourly workforces that includes communication and training components. The WorkJam solution is used by Shell.

“A more engaged employee will service customers better,” he explained. “Gartner came out with a report on the main contributors to employee happiness and engagement, and it was when the employee understood what was expected of them, had tools to do their best every day, and felt as though they had a voice in providing feedback to the organization.”

Sheetz, too, is well aware of the importance of employee engagement.

“We talk a lot about engagement here and have a strategic focus on it because happy employees stay, deliver better customer service, and produce and perform better,” Doliveira said. “Also, keeping a great culture and a fun work environment [is crucial]. People tend to stay in a job that is fun and rewarding.”

For more on how to attract, train and retain top-quality talent, look in the July issue of Convenience Store News

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