First jobs stay with us for a lifetime. They’re the answer to an interesting interview question, the basis of many of our professional skills, the training ground for becoming a productive member of society. Many of us can recall our first days at our first jobs at the drop of a hat because they had such an impact on us during a particularly transformative period in our lives. In fact, I have vivid memories of many of my shifts at Festival Foods, my first employer. The lessons that I learned that have stuck with me through college, and through the founding of my own business.
First jobs matter to your employees – and the experience that you’re providing them should matter to you too.
Here’s why: what your employees think about you is just as important as what you think about them. For many of your employees, working at your store is their first job, their first foray into the professional world. The experience that they have at your store will stick with them forever, like my first job at Festival Foods stuck with me, and they won’t be afraid to share it with their network.
After all, your employees are members of your store’s community. They’re enrolled in the local high school, participate in sports, volunteer at community events, and are connected (either as family or friends) to a large portion of your customer base. As their first-ever employer, you want to make a good impression so that when someone asks them about their job, or their time at your store, they receive a positive response.
Grocery store employee demographics: Who are they?
You might be thinking: is it really true that I am the first employer for many of my employees? Do I really hold a higher responsibility to my employees because they chose my company as their first employer? The demographics point to yes.
Young workers age 16 to 24 hold nearly one-third of grocery store jobs. With many states’ labor laws indicating that individuals can’t work a certain number of hours until they’re at least 14, and many people choosing to forgo a part-time job even until they enter college, this demographic information means that working at your store is likely the first professional experience for many of your employees. With little to no work experience in tow, it’s up to you to set the stage for an excellent work environment.
Why working at a grocery store is a great first job
Grocery store jobs appeal to young workers (as well as senior workers!) because the job typically allows them to be part-time, and often doesn’t require previous experience working in grocery or retail.
But there’s more to their decision than that. Many young workers seek out grocery stores for their first job because they are familiar with the brand. They have been frequenting the store for much of their lives with their parents and have grown used to seeing employees stocking shelves, ringing up orders, and bagging groceries. They can envision themselves being a part of that culture.
Once they decide to apply to your company and officially join your team, it’s up to you to make a great impression. Talent retention is a popular topic in many retail circles right now (and some grocers like Safeway do it extremely well), but that’s not necessarily why you need to make a concerted effort to wow your employees with their professional experience.
Young people have the potential to be longtime members of your community, the people that you serve each and every day in your store. If you give them a great experience in their first job, they’ll likely recommend your store to others – either as potential customers or future employees – and to shop with you throughout their lifetime.
How to create an optimum experience for your employees
So you’re in. You’re ready to take a good hard look at your current onboarding and employee engagement strategies and determine what you can improve upon in order to make each of your employees (especially those whose first jobs are at your company) into a community brand ambassador. Here are our go-to tips:
Provide individual support
Employees are not one size fits all, particularly when they’re just starting out. You’ll need to give entry-level employees individual support in order to ensure their success and loyalty to your business. If you treat your employees as more than just a number, getting to know them, their professional strengths and weaknesses, what motivates them and where they get stuck in their work, you’ll be able to maximize their potential in your store and create a lasting connection between them and your business.
Grocery store positions have a great draw for young employees: the potential for flexibility. As an employee at Festival Foods, I had the opportunity to easily switch shifts with another employee if something came up. As a teenager, something always comes up. Consider implementing technology that allows employees to mark themselves “available” outside of their scheduled shifts so that other employees know who to contact if they want to change their working hours for the week. Then, make sure your policy for switching shifts is simple, so that the experience isn’t a headache for your employees or their managers.
Train, train, and train again
The more capable you make your employees feel, the more confident they’ll be in their jobs. For entry-level employees, this nurturing of professional confidence is key. If you’re able to provide them with the information and hands-on training necessary for them to do their jobs, they’ll take the skills they learned from you with them throughout their career.
One way to do this is to provide insight into the reasons behind why they do their assigned tasks. Stocking shelves or date checking may not seem like a very exciting duty, but if you are able to fill them in on how customers behavior data shows that fully-stocked shelves result in a better perception of the store, or how 35% of shoppers say they are extremely likely to stop shopping at a store after noticing a trend in expired product purchases, they will have more motivation to complete their work and feel more purposeful in their position.
Offer fair compensation
Even entry-level employees deserve fair compensation. Think about the value that a well-trained employee, one with the potential to become a lifetime brand advocate, brings to your business. If you invest the time and energy into your employees, you’ll experience returns – both in brand recognition and in revenue.
The research backs this up: employees who are compensated well (in wages, time off, or other benefits) work harder and view your company in a better light.
Discuss career opportunities
While talent retention isn’t always your #1 priority with entry-level employees, talking through career opportunities for them within your company shows that you’re invested in them not only as your employees, but as members of the community. By finding out their interests and plans for their education and subsequent career, you can tailor your recommendations to each individual employee. It’s a bonus if they decide to stay within your company – you’ll gain an employee who is committed to your mission and is already well-trained in your culture and operations.
First jobs have the potential to turn an employee into a lifelong brand advocate, and potentially a long term employee. By curating a great onboarding and employee engagement experience, you’ll put yourself in the best position possible to make a great impression on your employees at every level, but particularly with first time professionals.
Looking for more employee engagement tips? Our latest eBook provides industry-specific insights into motivating and retaining your talent.