- Building relationships between senior employees and new or lower-level workers, spotlighting career opportunities, and communicating company values are key ways grocers can hire and retain Gen Z and millennial workers, directors from Dash’s Market and Brookshire Brothers shared during a National Grocers Association webinar earlier this month.
- Grocers need to invest the time and effort into making new and younger employees feel appreciated and seen, said Corry Lankford, director of advertising and e-commerce for Brookshire Brothers, and Alexa Dash, director of e-commerce and marketing for Dash’s Market. "You have to treat them like they could be your next assistant manager because you don't know what path somebody is going to choose," Dash said.
- These insights come at a time when the grocery industry is struggling to hire and retain workers and looking to revamp the reputation of retail jobs.
Grocers have faced difficulties hiring younger workers as the pandemic continues to pose safety threats and increased workloads for retail workers.
Because grocery workers, especially those at the store level, often don't get to enjoy holidays off or have the ability to work remotely, tapping into the sense of accomplishment and public service is key, Lankford said.
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of cross-training for Brookshire Brothers, which operates stores throughout Texas and western Louisiana. Usually, the grocery company would shift skilled workers over temporarily to a store that was overburdened, but the pandemic has made it necessary to teach workers how to do several jobs, Lankford said. Cross-training allows workers to discover job functions across the store that they might not have considered, which could spark a job change, and provide them with expanded store operation knowledge that can benefit them in a higher-rank position, Lankford and Dash said.
“The grocery store has so many wide different varieties of jobs, whether that's IT, marketing, whether it's accounting — there's so many parts of pieces of this particular industry that somebody can find a career path no matter what it is that they really want to do," Lankford said.
He pointed to his experience, starting as a cashier and then working in office management, retail management at the assistant level, human resource and payroll and graphic design before stepping into the e-commerce role.
Grocers can lean into the uncertainty of career paths within the industry as a strength, Dash said, noting that Dash's Market, which operates four stores in western New York, is flexible about jobs. If someone is struggling in one role, the grocer helps them determine if another one might be a better fit.
“We get a lot of people who come and maybe they had a job and they weren't a fan of it, so they're looking for something to do in the meantime or to try something new. And that's our opportunity to capitalize and take them and mold them into something they didn't know they wanted to be or help them find what that path is," Dash said.
Lankford and Dash stressed the importance of workplace culture, from building relationships between lower- and higher-level employees to encouraging friendship and respect among workers to instilling company values.
“It's making sure that your people know how appreciated they are for the work that they're doing and the energy and effort that they're putting in, and the way to do that ... is being on the front lines with them," Lankford said, giving the example of CEO John Alston stocking dog food at a store.
Another way Brookshire Brothers looks to emphasize its focus on "the idea of good people, good food, good deeds" is by spotlighting its community involvement, like participating in local festivals and events, Lankford said.
Small operators like Dash's Market can emphasize the closeness of workers as part of its culture.
“We’re close enough that we're able to have relationships, not just within our own stores, but from store to store and upper management knows everybody. ... You don't just feel like you're a number walking in the door," Dash said.
Grocers need to impart to job seekers that seemingly uninteresting jobs like stocking shelves or working at the cashiers are complex, with Dash and Lankford suggesting behind-the-scenes look at different processes, like what it takes to get items from a manufacturer to the shelf, to showcase the intricacies involved.
"Understanding store operations helped me tremendously when we launched our first Brookshire Brothers Anywhere e-commerce location," he said.
While Lankford said grocers can tap into the digitally-savvy skills of younger workers, Dash said Gen Z workers might be surprised to find they like working with their hands more instead of being behind a screen.
“I think just because they're Gen Z doesn't mean that they need to be immersed in digital, which is probably contrary to popular belief, but it's true," she said.