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Avoid the “Great Resignation” by cultivating a culture of psychological safety

9 best practices for store managers and supervisors to boost employee retention.
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The media have made much of the “Great Resignation,” a phenomenon in which a record number of U.S. employees have walked away from their jobs since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Experts have suggested many reasons for this, but it all comes down to the grass looking greener—or safer—somewhere else.

While Canadian employees haven’t followed suit, The Work Trend Index, a global survey of 30,000 people, found that more than 40% were considering leaving their employer last year. That’s a lot of unhappy employees.

Take note that there are lots of jobs waiting for any unhappy employee—job vacancies reached an all-time high of 912,600 in Canada in the Q3 2021, according to Statistics Canada.

While hiring may be an immediate priority for some convenience stores, retaining existing employees should be an ongoing priority for every store.

How? Cultivate a culture of psychological safety.

During the pandemic, work has been exceptionally stressful for frontline retail employees. Staff shortages, long hours, shifting COVID-19 requirements, and aggressive customers have all taken a toll on mental health and wellbeing.

That’s why I’m passionate about psychological safety, because going forward it’s what will differentiate employees who are thriving from those who are just surviving. Research into psychological safety has identified many benefits, such as greater confidence, trust and productivity. All of this creates a solid business case. For example:

  • Employees of organizations that increase psychological safety feel more engaged, which can lead to a 12% increase in productivity, according to Gallup's 10th Employee Engagement Meta-analysis Report
  • Deloitte Canada quantifies the return on investment for Canadian firms that invest in mental health programming. After just one year the median annual return is $1.62 for every dollar invested. After three years, the return more than doubles to $2.18, according to The ROI in workplace mental health programs: Good for people, good for business report from Deloitte Insights.

Start by protecting employees’ physical health and safety

Physical safety, including freedom from violence and harassment, is a prerequisite for psychological safety. Research shows that employees who feel their employer is looking out for their physical safety have more confidence in their employer, are more committed to their job, and are less likely to experience psychological distress and mental health problems. Ensure your physical safety program is up to speed.

9 best psychological safety practices for store managers and supervisors

Senior management support is critical to any initiative, including creating a psychologically safe environment. But on a daily basis, managers and supervisors also have an enormous influence on whether their employees have a positive experience at work. The following best practices, from Canada Life’s Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, can be implemented at no cost to help managers and supervisors create and sustain a psychologically safe environment among their team members.

1. Establish clear expectations on what employees are supposed to do.

2. Recognize employees when they do their job well.

3. Provide constructive feedback when they don’t.

4. Listen to their concerns.

5. Share information with them when you’re about to change their roles or introduce a new process or policy.

6. Make yourself available to answer questions.

7. Plan their work effectively.

8. Support their decisions. “If an employee has an elderly relative to care for, a childcare issue, or is in mental distress, you have to support the employee in whatever they decide to do. Otherwise, they disengage.”

9. Ask for employee input before making a decision that affects their work. “If employees have too much work, they have to feel comfortable telling you.”

Putting these practices in place doesn’t have to be complicated. Start with two-way conversations. Schedule a couple of minutes in each team meeting or during a walk-through to ask employees how they are doing. Not the work, not the operations, not the budget, not the planning, but the person.

*The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date. Originally published in the March/April 2022 issue of Convenience Store News Canada. 




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Esther Fleurimond is a consultant with Workplace Safety & Prevention Services

As a consultant with WSPS, Esther Fleurimond works with customers on developing psychological health and safety programs in the workplace. WSPS is a health and safety association supporting employers and workers in Ontario’s agricultural, manufacturing and service sectors. Visit or reach out to [email protected] or 1-877-494-WSPS (9777).

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