Our C-Store Champions share their tips for dealing with human resource issues in store, and ensuring a happy and motivated team

Nigel Dowdney, owns two stores in Earlham and Stalham, Norfolk

Regular nights out, competitions and incentives keep Nigel’s team keen and motivated

Shailesh Parekh, three forecourt stores in Wolverhampton (Lifestyle Express and Nisa)

Shailesh believes that well cared-for staff perform better in their jobs

Steve Bassett, One Stop and Londis retailer, Weymouth

Steve is keen for his staff to be their own characters and believes it is what makes c-stores stand out

Daniel Mellor, assistant manager, Spar Ballyclare Milestone, County Antrim

Staff at Spar Ballyclare are encouraged to raise any worries 
they may have

Who looks after human resource issues in your business?

Nigel: We split it between myself, my wife Sharon and our assistant manager Nikki. Nikki is in charge of the payroll and staff holiday; my wife is in charge of the training; and I am in charge of recruitment. However, with regards to the recruitment process there are two stages of interviews. The first is undertaken by me and the final interview by Sharon and Nikki as they spend the most face-to-face time with the staff on the shop floor.

Shailesh: I have five managers, who help me to look after human resource issues. I am heavily involved with the recruitment process, payroll, holiday and sickness. With regards to issues during the shift, whoever is managing at the time will see to it and if further help is required I can step in.

Steve: My store managers look after the day-to-day issues, with support from my wife. For changes to employment law my wife and I will work out the best approach.

Daniel: I look after most of the human resource issues in our store. This includes the weekly rota and any issues staff may have with it, recruitment and payroll. Kerry, the manager who is on maternity at the moment, usually offers advice on these issues.

What are the benchmarks you use to pay staff?

Nigel: I pay my staff the minimum wage, with supervisors and managers paid above this. We review staff progress and pay annually. This process sees a member of staff and a manager each filling out forms about how the member of staff is coping, and any real differences are then taken into consideration.

Shailesh: My staff start on the minimum wage. However, once they have been with me for more than two years I give them a rise.

Steve: Staff are paid differently according to responsibility. We generally work out how we pay our staff from the minimum wage.

Daniel: We pay our short-term, temporary staff minimum wage. Senior customer advisors and supervisors are paid above minimum wage.

Does the jump in National Minimum Wage next spring and move to the new national living wage worry you?

Nigel: Yes - I have a greater percentage of over-25-year-olds working for me so I will be paying most of my staff the living wage. I have calculated that this alone will cost me £18,500 a year, and that’s without the additional pension charges. I fear the increase will push a lot of retailers over the tipping point.

Shailesh: Providing corporation taxes do indeed go down 18%, I will be able to use that money to pay my staff; I would rather pay them a healthy sum. What I do disagree with is the 14% which retailers are taxed to employ someone.

Steve: Yes - we only have so much ‘wage’ spend to go around. It begs the question can we afford to keep staff who aren’t as effective as others? This coupled with pensions and employers paying SSP means it’s getting tougher.

Daniel: It isn’t much of a worry for us as most of our staff are paid £7 and above, so the increase is quite small for us.

What are the key things that staff tell you make them feel happy and motivated?

Nigel: We regularly organise staff nights out, doing an activity such as bowling. We also run competitions and incentives to motivate the staff. Rewards such as a bottle of something are usually given for upselling a product or selling the most amount of raffle tickets.

Shailesh: When staff feel cared for and managers are considerate, they are more likely to feel happy at work. If they aren’t happy, I can tell because it comes across in their interaction with the customers.

Steve: It seems respect and fair workload keep them happy. Giving them time to do their jobs and interact with customers helps, too.

Daniel: We like to keep staff motivated. We have a monthly award called the ‘Have Value’ award, a bit like an employee of the month. It is presented in the staff area and the winner is given a £10 voucher to spend in store. We also have incentives such as a bonus which the staff get every six months providing they hit their sales target. This can be anything from £100 to £200.

What do you do to boost morale when staff are feeling low?

Nigel: Last year we had a rather violent incident in the shop whereby two people threatened members of our staff with knives. This, of course, affected them and to help them we offered them counselling, time off work and sent flowers to their houses. And why all this? Because happy staff are good staff.

Shailesh: We talk to staff when something’s wrong; even if it’s personal I like to think my staff feel they can come to me. We give advice and look at the best way to deal with the situation. To keep up morale we also go for meals or partake in team bonding events.

Steve: We take an interest in them; even if we can’t help them specifically, it helps to talk. Situations like these let staff unload and sometimes that can be all they need.

Daniel: If a member of staff makes it known they are feeling low we will talk to them. To boost morale across the team we set up staff bonding days doing anything from go-karting to enjoying a meal out together.

What is the most challenging staff wellbeing incident you have had?

Nigel: Five years ago a staff member phoned in to say they wouldn’t be coming to work the following day because they had some decorators arriving to give estimates. At this time we had members off sick, as well as my dad in hospital for an operation, so our numbers were pretty thin. Even after I told the person to work they were still a no-show, so I had to let them go. Said person then took me to an industrial tribunal. My staff were very supportive and after a stressful nine months I won the case.

Shailesh: We had one lady who worked in the shop who had a lot of home troubles and over time not only brought her issues to work, but became an alcoholic, too. She eventually stopped coming to work and then took me to court, building a case around constructive dismissal. It was a lot to go through, but I won the case.

Steve: There have been a number of things - long-term sickness, illness, marital break-ups, tears; you name it, we seem to have had it.

Daniel: We have had it quite easy, to be honest. The worst was when a member of staff had been going through a tough time with issues outside of work. As members of the Retail Trust, we can refer our staff for help if they need it.

Where do you go for further advice on how to deal with human resource issues?

Nigel: I speak to my solicitor if I have any problems, as well as the Association of Convenience Stores. They have a very good legal advice line and website.

Shailesh: I am part of Retail Marketing International and I go to them with most of my queries. If I need specific advice I’ll go to my solicitor.

Steve: One Stop or Londis offer some help and we also head online to ACAS. We speak to our accountants for wage-related issues and also speak with other retailers via the WhatsApp application.

Daniel: We speak to the HR advisors at our head office if we need answers to anything.

How would you advise other retailers to deal with sensitive staff wellbeing issues?

Nigel: If there’s a real issue I would recommend the retailer speaks to a body such as the ACS. However, if it is just a general problem it’s best to encourage the member of staff to open up to you.

Shailesh: I would just talk to them; it is hard to not overstep the boundary of boss to friend, but businesses like ours are very close-knit. If they don’t open up it’s down to them, but generally if you find the right tone, they will.

Steve: Treat people fairly then you won’t run into any trouble.

Daniel: Contact the Retail Trust and ask for advice. Also, talk to your staff, be approachable.

Do you encourage members of staff to be their own character on the shop floor, or do you recommend set behaviours to ensure consistency?

Nigel: We have a mixture of ages from 14 (the paper boy) to early 60s. We encourage them to be their own character, as it’s a character the customers like.

Shailesh: I have lots of different characters in my store and encourage everyone to be their own person. The main thing I tell them is that they must have good social intelligence; you must read the customer you’re serving. If it’s a male, would they rather be called sir or mate?

Steve: Absolutely, that’s what makes independent stores better than the multiples. It’s what makes our stores shine.

Daniel: Most definitely. Each member of staff is encouraged to be their own person. We would never hire someone and then expect them to conform.

How do you monitor the wellbeing of your staff on a day-to-day basis?

Nigel: I don’t really. If someone isn’t happy we can usually tell and whoever is working will pass on the message to me and I’ll do my best to sort it out.

Shailesh: We aren’t a big corporation; there are only seven or eight of us on shift at any one time so it’s quite easy to monitor how staff are feeling. If something is bothering someone it is quite soon picked up.

Steve: You know their characters and you can tell if something is not right. We are a small family, after all.

Daniel: We just keep a watchful eye on the staff. We are very friendly and you can soon tell if something’s up. We have one-to-ones twice a year, too, as an opportunity for any problems to be spoken about.

How do you ensure that staff are happy in the workplace?

Nigel: We work with the staff on a daily basis. If they aren’t happy we talk to them and sort through any troubles they may have. Our staff are not afraid to come to us; we work together and talk together.

Shailesh: The main reason staff become unhappy in the work place is if everyone isn’t pulling their weight. If things aren’t done properly on a changeover, or jobs aren’t carried out correctly, and everyone is being paid the same, staff are going to start getting annoyed. So we start by ensuring this part of the business is working smoothly. Flexibility is also key. If a manager does their job right staff shouldn’t have to fit their life around work, but rather their work around their life.

Steve: Treating them fairly seems to work for us.

Daniel: We have monthly team meetings where the staff are welcome to bring up any issues they have, and vice versa. The majority of our staff have been with us for about five years so things tend to run pretty smoothly.

Do you think customers respond well to happy staff?

Nigel: Oh yes, our customers know our staff by name. They tell us they prefer to come to our shop over going to the Tesco over the road because they always look depressed there, whereas we look happy.

Shailesh: Definitely, the customers love to have a bit of banter with the staff and they must be happy to do that. We have a great community; some of the locals even bring us in homemade cakes and boxes of chocolates.

Steve: Of course, many a time a customer has taken me to one side, and I’m dreading a complaint, but they just want to say how friendly our staff are, which is great.

Daniel: If the conversation between our staff and customers is anything to go by then yes, definitely. A lot of the customers here are known by name and they enjoy talking with the staff.