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CSNC EXCLUSIVE: Scott Greenberg on how to retain hourly workers and create winning teams

The former franchise owner is author of 'Stop the Shift Show: Turn Your Struggling Hourly Workers Into a Top-Performing Team'
Scott Greenberg head shot
Scott Greenberg
Scott Greenberg head shot
Scott Greenberg

It’s no secret to convenience-gas operators that managing staff and retaining them is a constant struggle. The concerns are justified. Employee turnover in the convenience store sector is very high, as much as 150% in 2021 according to data. Interviewing, hiring and training staff, most of whom are hourly workers, is time-consuming and many owners are frustrated by the process.

Meet author, keynote speaker and workshop leader Scott Greenberg. As a multi-franchise owner himself for more than a decade, he understands how this is a pain point for many businesses and has shared ideas on how to manage hourly workers smarter in his new book, Stop the Shift Show: Turn Your Struggling Hourly Workers Into a Top-Performing Team.

“What I came to appreciate is that hourly workers are quite different than those on salaries, but surprisingly, few resources are available for how to manage them. I took an enormous interest in the topic and thought this book was a great opportunity to address it.”

About 50% of workers in the U.S. and Canada are hourly workers. Gen Z makes up a large, growing percentage and 88% of them are under the age of 25, Greenberg points out. “The way you manage a 47-year-old engineer is not the same way you’d manage an 18-year-old cashier.”

Though it has been easy for some to point to young people as being the source of a high employee turnover problem, Greenberg says not so fast. “I believe in holding people accountable, not just employees but management, too. When I hear that 150% turnover number, that means there's an opportunity for management to improve it by creating more retentive work environments and managing staff more effectively. But most people in management and ownership positions don't want to take that responsibility. They're busy and think of employment as something transactional. They just want to hire people who are good, instead of growing people to make them better.”

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Stop the Shift Show book cover
Stop the Shift Show book cover

The making of managers

In his research across many business sectors, including quick service, he discovered how some businesses have cracked the code and have figured out how to hire better, improve retention, and create cultures that encourage people to stay and perform at a higher level. But first management needs to believe in the possibility that it can be done.

The problem, he says, is that managers in certain environments are those who have stuck around longer than others and have demonstrated job competency. “Then they get promoted to management, but that is a completely different skill set than being a cashier,” Greenberg points out.

And he offers this revealing fact: The average person in a management position manages people for 10 years before they get any formal training to do so. “Companies will spend a fortune on marketing or technology, but they won't invest in this other element that is so critical,” he says. “Instead, they invest all this money by continuously recruiting and continuously fixing problems from under-managed employees.”

It's an issue that is overlooked because there’s a lack of appreciation for good management. Companies believe workers are the problem and not the management, he says, and notes that 60% of employees leave their jobs because of management. People will stay when their emotional needs are being met. There's a greater sense of belonging, a sense of personal growth, respect and personal development.

Bridging the generation gap

To retain employees, Greenberg suggests finding out what is important to them and staying up to date as needs change. “I don't look at that as enabling them,” he emphasizes. “I look at it as empowering them and updating your business. “One characteristic of Gen Z, for example, is they are highly entrepreneurial. Many aspire to be business owners.”

C-stores can take advantage of that by hiring young people and treating the job as a paid internship. Owners can have occasional conversations with them about marketing, sales and managing the business and other big-picture concepts. That helps an employee connect what they are doing now to longer-term goals. Getting training on something that matters to them helps create a sense of ownership in your business.

It's time to let go of outdated ideas, says Greenberg. While older generations may view suffering as a virtue and may accept being miserable every day to make money, the younger ones recognize that life is short and they aren’t willing to compromise quality of life to earn a living. They expect a healthy work environment. The notion that whatever the boss says goes isn’t reflective of today’s attitudes.

10 top tips for retaining hourly employees

Author Scott Greenberg offers some sage advice on creating dynamic teams.

1.  Create a great work experience to build loyalty and to become a best employer of choice. You don’t have to be the highest-paying employer.

2.  Offer a good work-life balance, something that Gen Z’s value especially. That means being deliberate about scheduling and flexibility.

3.  Train everyone who works for you in your company culture, regardless of their job status.

4.  Make employee appreciation a ritual.

5.  Measure employee satisfaction regularly. Consistently solicit feedback from your team on how to improve the work environment.

6.  Teach managers how to lead people, not just the operation.

7.  Hire individuals for their mindset and ability to fit into your culture more than for their skill set.

8.  Send your employees regular, handwritten notes with praise and recognition.

9.  Keep your staff connected to the company and to each other, even if they don’t work together.

10.  Provide employees with clear performance standards and measure them closely.

Creating a better employee experience

“Employers have to adapt to create more balanced, more human-centric workplaces,” he explains. “I don't want my kids to work for a jerk and be mistreated. I want business owners to show some loyalty and keep their promises. It’s a war right now to hire employees and those who are going to win the war are ones willing to create a better employee experience. They put an emphasis on the human side of their business. They're not just changing policies and paying people more. They’re deliberate about how their business makes people feel.”

Greenberg encourages business owners to design the culture they want. It’s not just about being nice to people. It’s the positive interaction between team members. He says you need to determine the values that everyone can embrace to make that culture real. He cautions against using abstract concepts. “For every value you think is important, create a list of behaviours—do’s and don’ts—then train employees and hold them accountable,” he advises. “Celebrate wins and identify violations to keep the culture strong.”

C-stores operators can do simple things to nurture culture, like welcoming new employees to the team by hanging a sign with their name, giving them a welcome basket of goodies, or assigning a co-worker mentor for them on their first day. For farewells, you could offer a small gift, a cake or a card signed by fellow employees. 

On an ongoing basis, teams may benefit from regular, short group discussions—a chance to go over duties, set goals and reinforce company values. Keep them interactive and have an employee lead the talk. Host social events, like a potluck, and volunteer as a team for a community initiative, to strengthen bonds. Such gestures send a message that everyone is valued.

Greenberg is not a believer in using mission statements and value statements to build culture. “Half the time they are created to impress the public,” says Greenberg. “Take those concepts off the mountaintop and provide guidance for culture that is meaningful for hourly employees.”

Just as managers set benchmarks for sales, they can also establish metrics around employee satisfaction. Survey staff about their feelings about their employer. Ask if they would recommend their job to a friend, rank job satisfaction from one to 10 and allow for open-ended answers to get more feedback. Use baseline scores to make changes, find ways to improve and set benchmarks.

“Make it a priority,” says Greenberg. “You’ll reap the benefit by having engaged employees invested in the success of your business because you’ve invested in them.”

Originally published in the May/June 2024 issue of Convenience Store News Canada


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