The Finish Line: Keep Retail Employees Energized for the Holiday Season

energize employees

For consumers, the holiday shopping season may seem like a sprint (especially this year, when it’s so short). But for retailers and their employees, it’s more like a marathon.

Beginning in summer when you start planning your strategy and ordering your inventory, through Black Friday when the season officially kicks off, small business owners and their teams work nonstop to make the holiday shopping season pay off.

Now, the end of the marathon is very near – but can your employees actually make it to the finish line?

Below are some tips to help energize employees to handle the rush through the end of the season.

How to Energize Employees for the Holiday Season

Be Aware

Yes, we know you’re crazy-busy yourself, but it’s especially crucial to be present in the store this time of year. Don’t be an absentee owner—make sure you’re active both on the front lines and in the stockroom, so you can keep an eye on what’s going on.

The goal is not to get bogged down in tasks someone else can do, like spending your whole day ringing up orders, but to focus on the “big picture” and troubleshoot issues to keep everything running smoothly.

Think like a manager, not a clerk, and make sure your clerks have what they need to do their jobs.

Break It Up

Providing frequent short breaks can help employees re-energize. Make sure your team gets their scheduled breaks and meal times. However, you can also re-energize workers in-between their official breaks. Simply switching between tasks is often enough to recharge someone’s batteries.

For instance, if a worker has been on the register for an hour dealing with an unending line of impatient customers, try switching her to straightening the stockroom, or another behind-the-scenes task so she can get some downtime from human interaction.

Back Them Up

Speaking of difficult customers, I know the customer is always right – but it’s important to have your employees’ backs. Empower your team to make their own decisions as to how to satisfy customers, while being sure they know the parameters within which they can operate. However, if a customer is being unreasonable and your employee is being abused, that’s when you need to step in and take charge.

Never negate your employees’ actions or criticize them in front of others – this will demoralize workers who are already working hard. Simply remove them from the situation in a polite, but firm way so you can handle the problem customer.

Make It Fun

There are all kinds of ways you can make the workplace more fun and help your team blow off steam. Bring in donuts or holiday treats, have employee dress-up days, or create silly employee contests like having people bring in their baby pictures with Santa and see if you can identify everyone. Bonus: A fun workplace spills over to the customers, making your store a fun place for them to be, too.

Reward Their Work

When possible, be flexible with holiday schedules and your employees will thank you. If there’s no room for days (or even afternoons) off, an hour off here or there can work wonders to reward an employee.

Consider rewarding employees who work the toughest shifts with something extra (beyond holiday pay). Give an award for “employee of the day” or for going above and beyond. Or hand out random small rewards, like gift cards, when you see employees doing something extra-special (you may even be able to barter for gift cards with other local businesses).

Don’t Stop Too Soon

Remember, the holiday shopping season doesn’t end with Christmas. Be prepared for the post-holiday rush of returns, exchanges and customers with gift cards in hand ready to spend.

Keep employees psyched up to keep the energy going through the first week of January too.


When it’s all over, be sure to thank your team with a well-earned holiday luncheon, dinner out or company party to celebrate the New Year and the end of the holiday rush.

Tire Employee Photo via Shutterstock


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

7 Reactions
  1. I have seen so many holiday workers losing their cheer and I think that too bad. They are working hard enough as it is and the usual holiday rushes that they face is enough to drive anyone crazy.

    • I guess it may be the fact that they have to work even if it is the holidays. I can relate with them. I am still required to work even in this holiday season. Though I don’t completely resent it as much as some people do, it does not even get me in the Christmas mood. After all, how can you celebrate when you have to work, right?

  2. Very inspiring post, hope the retailers make use of it, specially during holiday season, when the rush is too high & many finds it difficult to maintain their cool. But an owner just like a leader should always motivate their employee to do their best, at the same time giving them little comfort from time to time, for keeping them healthy, also to ease tension during rush time, it is sometimes recommended to crack jokes for easing the environment.

  3. Any work unappreciated during holidays can leave a scar on an employee’s dedication towards their work.
    any positive reinforcement will boost work morals.
    Sadly, many employers undermine this basic rule.
    Insightful article.

    • You’re right. Some employers even undermine the need for the holidays and belittle the sacrifice that the employee is making for the sake of his company. I hope more employers learn to reward their employees so that they’ll be more than happy to work even if times are tough.