Is retailing a dead-end job? Many people think so. But if you were one of them, you wouldn’t have opened your store. So, how can you communicate your enthusiasm to current and prospective employees, most of whom likely work out of necessity, not aspiration?

First, let’s agree that an engaged employee is a more productive employee. Department store chain Sears did a survey last year and found—no surprise—that happier employees sold more stuff. And happiness seemed to run in departments; happier employees typically were part of departments made up of happier workers. Unhappy employees tended to be part of departments filled with unhappy co-workers, and those departments sold less stuff.

What made the difference? Let’s face it, most front-line jobs in any industry you can name—accounting, barista, call center operator, cleaning crew, construction, landscaping, order-processing, packing and shipping—are repetitive or routine. The difference between engaged and disengaged employees appears to be that person’s ability to connect his or her work to the person receiving the product or service. In other words, to step outside themselves while on the job and leave their personal concerns at the door.

In the case of a barista, for example, you are not just making coffee all day long; you are benefitting people’s emotions, getting them over their feelings of lethargy, giving them a brighter outlook and providing them a positive social experience that improves their day. Or take order-processing. You could think of yourself as isolated in a warehouse packing boxes, or you could imagine the joy and satisfaction of those receiving their anxiously anticipated orders, and how those products will improve their lives and the lives of those close to them.

Talk About It
So, what is it that makes you come to work every day? Why did you risk your money and dedicate yourself to building a natural health store? Let’s put it this way. If you’re not passionate about what you do, those who work for you won’t—can’t—be, either. And by remaining silent about what makes the work special to you, you’ll sow the seeds of discontent.

In an employee survey last October, KPMG, the big accounting firm, found that employees whose managers talked about the company’s impact on society were 42.4% more likely to describe the firm as a great place to work. Of those with managers who discussed the larger meaning of work, 68% said they rarely think about looking for a new job. Only 38% of employees whose managers didn’t discuss meaning at work felt the same way.

So, what larger meaning can you talk about at work? Fortunately, the benefits of the products and services you and your employees deliver every day are readily apparent: the good and improving health of your customers and their loved ones. Compared to packing boxes, it should be easy for your employees to imagine their positive impact on the world. Try it. WF

Jay Jacobowitz is president and founder of Retail Insights®, a professional consulting service for natural products retailers established in 1998, and creator of Natural Insights for Well Being®, a comprehensive marketing service designed especially for independent natural products retailers. With 38 years of wholesale and retail industry experience, Jay has assisted in developing over 1,000 successful natural products retail stores in the U.S. and abroad. Jay is a popular author, educator, and speaker, and is the merchandising editor of WholeFoods Magazine, for which he writes Merchandising Insights and Tip of the Month. Jay also serves the Natural Products Association in several capacities. In 2014, Jay received the Natural Products Association’s Industry Champion Award for notable contributions to the industry above and beyond commercial success. He can be reached at (800)328-0855 or via e-mail at

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, June 2015