Biggest Motivators for Retail Workers Today

Retail Staffing Motivations

By: Jason Effinger, Senior Recruitment Manager

The last two years have been one of the most challenging periods in the history of retail. Nearly two million retail workers were unemployed in 2020, with over a million classified as temporary layoffs. As stores began to reopen jobs became available again, but the mindset of retail workers had evolved along with the times. They had new concerns, priorities, and options.

Fast forward to today and there are 1.5 available jobs for each unemployed person, the most on record dating back two decades. There are currently a million job openings in retail and quit rates continue to be higher than in any other industry.

The biggest question on every hiring manager’s mind is “How do I attract and motivate talent today?” The answer is complex. People are motivated by different things, generational differences play a part, and once easy-to-confine catch-alls like flexibility, career development, workplace safety, and inclusion have taken on heightened and varied meanings.

I managed big box stores for years and now provide workforce solutions for those same chains. These are the biggest motivators I see driving retail workers today:


Pay is of course always a focal point for workers, but the added stress of working retail today coupled with the intense competition for workers has made it an even bigger determinant in hiring and retaining employees. Retail workers are not afraid to move from company to company to find higher pay and conditions they’re more comfortable with. Hiring a new hourly retail worker costs $1,500 and that doesn’t include the cost of lower morale and productivity that comes with high turnover. Companies are having to decide if they’d rather shift those costs to higher wages or risk losing the talent war to competitors.


Retail is run on the rigidity of schedules. You need a certain amount of employees to open the store, run the floor, work the cash registers, close the store, etc. Shifts are largely assigned with a take it or leave it mentality. But workers today are demanding more flexibility or going elsewhere to find it. They want more control over when they work and they want this from day one. As challenging as it is to provide this in retail, companies will need to build up their talent pool of flex workers and rely on their need to work.


Covid has completely changed how we all think about safety. For retail workers, many of which helped keep vital stores open, safety is something they are forced to think about even more than the rest of us. Customers may or may not be masked or vaccinated and that stress takes its toll, contributing significantly to the Great Resignation. What’s been taken for granted about workplace safety in the past no longer will be moving forward.

Employees want to know their employers are doing everything they can to protect them.


Retail workers have not traditionally been the beneficiaries of hiring incentives, but companies are trying everything they can to lure them today.

With so many openings, candidates can pick and choose between jobs based on who’s offering the best incentive. Signing bonuses, seasonal bonuses, referral bonuses, free college tuition, more paid time off, healthcare benefits: retail workers have more leverage than they’ve ever had. Incentives have changed expectations and pitted companies against each other in a game of one-upmanship.


It’s not a coincidence that retailers with the best training programs also have the highest retention rates, employee engagement, and customer satisfaction. Yet, over a third of employees say they don’t receive any training at all, and of those that do little more than half find it effective. Retail workers today want to see that companies want them to stay, that advancement and career opportunities are possible. If they don’t, it gives them one more reason to move on.


Three out of four people consider diversity an important factor when deciding whether to take a job. They’re going to ask about it and they’re going to notice it. Workers want to see a top-down approach to diversity and inclusion. They want to see diverse leaders and they want to know they’re trained to foster a positive culture. If retailers want to attract and retain top talent today, they have to prioritize diversity as much as their workforce does.