Back to Blogs

How to Support Your Grocery Staff During Coronavirus


During the 2019 holiday season (and man, does that feel like a long time ago now…) we put together a white paper called, “How to Unlock the Potential of Your Part-Time Workforce.” It was written by Heidi Sax on our editorial staff, and it was my favorite piece that we published last year.

It’s an understatement to say that things have changed since then. Store closings, people self-isolating, making daring runs to the supermarket dressed like a guy at Burning Man.

One thing that hasn’t changed though is the importance of the supermarket staff and their store managers. Rereading Heidi’s piece, I was surprised to find that, even in today’s frightening climate, a lot of the advice was not only still important, but essential practice.

To make a great piece relevant again, I’ve taken some of the key findings and updated them for what’s currently happening in the grocery space due to the coronavirus. I hope you find them helpful, and if you’d like to read the whole piece (which you should), please find it here.


Train Them… For Real

From the Original Piece:

We know that 29 percent or more of retail workers are part-timers. Well, it’s probably no coincidence that 31 percent of retail workers never receive any formal workplace training, according to Axonify’s “State of Frontline Workplace Training Study.”

Of the findings, Axonify CEO Carol Leaman said, “We started to realize that frontline workers are incredibly underserved in the minds, and in the actual activities, efforts, and dollars devoted to learning and development inside organizations.” It’s ironic that these are the very employees most responsible for establishing customers’ perceptions of a brand. Leaman went on to say that “the employee on the floor is incredibly important to the financial success of the organization.”

April 2020 Update:

Training has come to mean something different today. As we receive daily updates from disparate sources about the coronavirus (how it travels, who is susceptible, what it means to be a carrier) this training is more important than ever to keep your essential employees safe. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is store staff updated on the best way to protect transmission to/from our customers?
  • Are we doing current best practices around protecting loose food items like fruit and vegetables from contagion?
  • Does my store staff have the equipment they need to stay safe, and know how to properly use it?
  • Does store staff understand the symptoms of the virus, and is there a way for them to report any symptoms to management?
  • Do you have, and are employees aware of, contingency plans if essential workers become sick?

We’ve been inspired by dozens of stories about supermarket leadership, organizations, and communities rallying around these essential workers. Properly training them is another simple way to ensure they’re supported.


Set Expectations for Store Managers

From the Original Piece:

As a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Zeynep Ton has spent years studying store operations. Published in a variety of journals including Organization Science, Production and Operations Management, and Harvard Business Review, she is the authority on what makes a good retail job (and what makes a bad one).

In her Harvard Business Review article, “The Case for Good Jobs,” Ton underscores the role the store manager plays in empowering employees and creating good or bad jobs for sales associates. She points out that retailers who offer good jobs have “store managers [who] feel like owners. They believe that taking care of customers and developing employees are their most important tasks, and the operating system is designed accordingly.”

April 2020 Update:

While taking care of customers and developing employees is still essential, we might fine tune that to read ‘protecting customers and employees’ in today’s environment.

What is your expectation for store managers during these times, and is it being communicated well? We spoke with one customer whose operations leader gave all of their store managers daily checklists that included things like asking employees how they were feeling, monitoring for symptoms, and making sure proper training was taking place around protective equipment and sterilization.

During this time, store goals have shifted from increasing sales and traditional customer service to ensure the job is getting done as best as possible with the least likelihood of transmission. Have your store managers been updated and understand their new priorities? What has changed from the top down, and is knowledge transfer being applied across all locations?


Once They Prove Themselves, Delegate

From the Original Piece:

But once a part-time worker has proven that he or she can take direction, show up on time, and (ideally) make sales goals, it’s time to delegate. Typically, part-timers get stuck with the drudge work in a store. Cleaning the aisles. Inventory duty. Taking out the trash. “People treat them like they’re just minions. This makes it a brain-dead job. And it really doesn’t have to be,” says Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor.

Instead, help them flex their muscles with tasks that really drive results for your stores. Responsibilities that help them build rapport with customers or that encourage confidence during challenging interactions are truly the most valuable. There’s no reason a part-time worker can’t do these things. But all too often, they’re simply overlooked in favor of the old, reliable full-timers. Meanwhile, your store is only as strong as your weakest team member.

April 2020 Update:

This part of the piece resonated with me more than ever in the time of coronavirus. Retailers are having to do more with less staff members, and associates are stepping up and taking on responsibilities that would otherwise fall far outside their job description.

That’s okay.

The coronavirus is a problem with one solution: working together.

If you’re a store leader reading this, don’t feel like you have to be a martyr to the cause, taking all these new responsibilities on your back. That’s a great way to ensure that important things don’t get done or won’t be done well. In this time more than any other, don’t be afraid to delegate tasks. If people have proven one thing during this time, it’s how resilient they are, how willing they are to step up to help others. Here, it’s no exception.

If you’re interested in learning more (and picking up a ton of new facts) around part-time workers that might help you this year, take a look at our white paper.

More than anything else, we hope that you’re staying happy and healthy, and we’re looking forward to getting through all of this together.


We use cookies to deliver the best experience to our visitors.
By continuing to browse you accept the terms under our privacy policy. We will never share your data with third parties.