Guest Blog – Tackling Turnover: The Lesson Lisa Taught Me

Guest blog by Demetra Brown
Program Coordinator, Generation

Generation is a youth employment nonprofit with a dual mission to empower young people to build thriving, sustainable careers and to provide employers the highly skilled, motivated talent they need. More than 17,000 young people have graduated from programs in India, Kenya, Mexico, Spain, and the US, and Generation is launching in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Pakistan to start 2018.

Demetra Headshot

It was my first holiday season as an assistant manager and the pressure was mounting to staff our $34 million retail store for a 2 a.m. opening on Black Friday. One of my first hires of the season was Lisa, a soft-spoken, young adult, with an infectious smile. She was filling one of the more than 50 vacancies the holiday season demanded.

Within a few weeks on the floor, Lisa showcased her attention to detail and her amazing work ethic. She stood out from the other seasonal employees, who appeared less motivated to invest in a temporary position. Lisa was different — always on time and always going above and beyond for the guest.

As we approached Christmas Day, I knew I wanted to recognize Lisa for her outstanding work on the floor. So, later that week, I shared with Lisa that I would like to keep her on past the holiday season and promote her to a brand specialist in the shoe department. She was excited about being a permanent employee and accepted the role.

As January came to an end, the frequency of guests visiting the return desk and redeeming gift cards began to wane, along with shifts for employees. I found myself making difficult decisions around whose hours to cut. I had employees averaging 32-40 hours per week during the holiday season, now down to 20 hours per week.

Around that time, I noticed changes in Lisa. She began arriving to work late and the shoe department looked haphazardly maintained. I coached Lisa on her tardiness and shared my expectations of her. Lisa took the coaching without a change in demeanor and didn’t offer any insight into her decrease in performance.

Within that same week, Lisa showed up an hour late to her closing shift. I met with her again and discussed how this behavior seemed out of character. Lisa shared with me she had taken on another job working as a home care helper to make up for the decrease in hours at our store. I offered to give her extra hours to split the difference but Lisa was now committed to another organization and wasn’t willing to take fewer hours there. Lisa resigned shortly after our conversation.

Unfortunately, Lisa’s story is not uncommon among retail store managers. According to a survey by the Center for Popular Democracy of 1,100 retail front-line employees, 47 percent of the surveyed employees are part-time. Many of the employees in this study were involuntary part-time workers—meaning they desired full-time hours but could only find part-time work. In fact, 45 percent of the employees on staff wanted an increase in hours reported by one employer in the study. Like Lisa, 31 percent of employees worked more than one job. Furthermore, 25 percent reported having economic hardships to due to their part-time income.

Moreover, in a study conducted by FSG in 2016, the U.S. retail sector lost $9 billion due to entry-level involuntary turnover. One of the strategies FSG presented is investing in people-centered management. A study on frontline managers and flexibility practices by Drs. Susan Lambert and Julia Henly at the University of Chicago stated that “stores where frontline managers took employee scheduling preferences into account had a 23 percent lower turnover and 7 percent higher retention than stores where frontline managers did not.”

I was a rookie manager when I worked with Lisa as a retail assistant manager. However, my challenges with her proved to be a valuable experience for my career growth. As I continued to understand the needs of my employees, I made it a practice to know each of my employee’s preferences and scheduling needs. I learned about their preferences and was able to retain top talent throughout my management career. This consistent and personal approach proved valuable, for me as a scheduling manager, for the company, and most importantly, the employee.

Now, my work with Generation Dallas, a nonprofit training and skills preparation program, gets to the root of the problem. We’re tackling underemployment for incumbent retail employees and giving them the coaching and mentoring they need to become top performers while giving them pathways to sustainable customer service careers. And on May 22, we’re hosting Tackling Turnover: Engaging Young Adults to Boot Retention in the Workplace. The event brings together managers, experts, and community leaders to the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) Convening Center to discuss turnover, together with the Dallas business community, and giving employees like Lisa more possibilities for growth and advancement.

For more information, please reach out to me at