Four C-Store Champions discuss how they keep their staff happy and productive.

Dee Sedani, Londis Etwall and Matlock, Derbyshire

Dee regularly treats his staff to work nights out, which gives them a chance to air any concerns in a relaxed environment. It also acts as a good incentive, rewarding them for doing a good job.

Jimmy Dhaliwal, Thorougoods, Warwickshire

As some staff can be intimidated at the thought of voicing their concerns directly to management, Jimmy has nominated a member of staff on the shopfloor who people can approach with wellbeing issues.

Nas Hudson, Spar Seasalter, Kent

Patience is a key skill to have when dealing with staff wellbeing issues, Nas believes. If a member of staff is distressed, then she’ll always make the time to sit down with them and find out what’s wrong.

Saki Ghafoor, Nisa Extra in Ashington and Nisa in Gateshead, Northumberland

Saki knows that staff happiness is vital to his stores’ success, so he does his utmost to accommodate their needs. He also rewards them if they receive good feedback from mystery shoppers.

Who looks after human resources issues in your business and why do you feel that they are the best person for the job?

Jimmy: Our human resources manager looks after staffing issues because there is so much bureaucracy and new legislation coming in all the time. My door is always open if staff want to speak to me, though.

Nas: I look after staff wellbeing in the store. I’m very patient, which is probably why I’m good at it, and I’m in the shop most days so people can always talk to me.

Saki: My brother and I look after human resources ourselves. If we had more stores then we might need outside help, but for the time being we are always at the stores so are well placed to do it.

Dee: The store managers deal with human resources issues. They see the staff on a day-to-day basis, so it makes sense for them to deal with it.

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

Jimmy: It’s about creating a positive atmosphere. We have to be pleasant ourselves - if they see management being chirpy, they’ll be the same. We also keep staff in the picture about how the business is progressing. If I have to reduce people’s hours in January because it is a quiet month, for example, then I’ll explain why I’m doing it.

Nas: Incentives work well. Camelot gives staff incentives to make sure they are upselling lottery tickets. Paul, my husband, is also planning to introduce further incentive schemes so that if staff hit upselling targets then they earn some money for the kitty and then they can decide how they would like to spend it.

Saki: We ensure staff are happy by dealing with any issues straight away. If they let us know, we can do something about it.

Dee: I ask staff how I can make life easier for them. It’s often really trivial issues that can be easily sorted. In the past, staff have said they’d like a new microwave and a toaster, and I’m happy to help.

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

Jimmy: They like to know that store managers and owners are approachable. In our business you can nip issues in the bud because you can speak with management directly.

Nas: I think they just like to know that they are being listened to and understood.

Saki: Most are happy if you listen to them and if you can accommodate their needs.

Dee: It’s important to listen to staff and treat them fairly. We have three meetings a year where we take staff out for a bite to eat and a bit of a laugh and I’ll tell them what they need to be doing more of to improve customer service, and they’ll tell me if there’s anything they want to change. They said they’d like to be paid more, so I negotiated a 31p per hour increase on the proviso that they increased their sales by £1,000 a week.

What are the tell-tale signs that a member of staff is unhappy?

Jimmy: You can spot straight away if someone is down by the way they’re acting - if they’re a bit quiet, or they just have a panicked look about them.

Nas: Normally, they might be a bit quieter or not as smiley as usual. I’m quite informal with them - I’ll have a good chat and a laugh with them - so I’ll know if someone isn’t themselves.

Saki: You can pick up on things - their body language changes, the way they talk is different, and they’re not themselves.

Dee: You just have to read their body language and look at their face to see how they’re feeling.

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

Jimmy: I’ll talk to them and try to be positive. We also take staff on a night out every three to four months and invite their partners, too. It’s a way of thanking them for the hard work they put in.

Nas: The first thing I’ll do is make them a cup of tea. It sounds silly, but people really appreciate it if you just give them your time. I don’t want to know the ins and outs of their personal issues, I just want to make them feel better. I generally gee them up a bit and tell them that they’re at work now and it’s time to get away from problems at home.

Saki: We always try to meet the needs of our staff. For example, when the weather was bad, the local buses stopped early and some staff were worried that they wouldn’t be able to get home. But once they told us the issue, we were able to sort them out with a ride home.

Dee: I listen to what’s upsetting them and I tell them not to worry and try to be positive.

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

Jimmy: A lot of it isn’t so much issues with the business, but personal issues, such as a person may be worried that they have overspent and don’t have enough money to get them through the month. I’ll just sit down with them and work out if I can pay them something in advance. I’ll help them out when I can.

Nas: I don’t think I’ve had anything too challenging. In the past, Paul has had to deal with a member of staff who shouted at the management and didn’t have the right attitude. Unfortunately on that occasion they had to dismiss her.

Saki: It’s always hard when a member of staff’s family passes away. There’s little you can do for them other than give them time off.

Dee: We’ve never had to deal with anything major - it’s not like EastEnders! The other week a cashier came in looking really down because he’d split with his girlfriend. We sent him home for a couple of days to sort himself out. We’re not like the big corporates - we are flexible.

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

Jimmy: Once a month I’ll meet with the human resources manager and discuss any issues or any changes to legislation.

Nas: My mother-in-law used to own the store, so she is a big help. I’ve also talked to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service to resolve a legal dispute.

Saki: The Association of Convenience Stores, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents and Nisa head office are all good sources of general advice.

Dee: We have a human resources department at Musgrave, plus there are books out there to buy.

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

Jimmy: If you have more than four members of staff, then I would recommend choosing a strong employee to be the dedicated human resources person. Sometimes staff are scared to approach management, but with a middleman, they may find it easier.

Nas: Clearly, it depends on the issue, but I generally try not to let the person dwell on the problem. You need them to get back into the right mindset for work.

Saki: Incentivise your staff and look after them. If you don’t take care of your staff then customers won’t be happy and they won’t spend their money with you. Staff wellbeing affects the whole business.

Dee: It’s common sense. Watch people’s body language and if someone’s sat there like a wet fish and they’re not talking then find out why.

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

Jimmy: We do have certain set behaviours people have to say please and thank you and smile. But we also encourage staff to be themselves. It’s all about getting the balance right.

Nas: I try to encourage people to be themselves. I tell them there’s a reason why I chose them for this position - they have a great personality and I want to see it.

Saki: Different members of staff tend to be friendly to different customers depending on their backgrounds and hobbies. The standard is to make sure you’re smiling and polite, but other than that it is down to the staff.

Dee: I have lots of different characters in my stores. Being polite to customers is what’s important.•

Do you think customers respond well to happy staff?

Jimmy: Yes, definitely. Regardless of whether you’re having a bad day, you have to remain pleasant. We get elderly people coming in just for a chat, so staff need to be happy to converse with them. No one customer is the same and even when you get a grumpy customer, you still have to be polite. Staff do their jobs much better when they are happy.

Nas: Certainly. The number of customers I get who come up to me and tell me how friendly and welcoming my staff are is overwhelming.

Saki: If staff are happy and positive then customers are happy chatting to them. No one wants a member of staff moaning at them. The happier they are, the better job they do.

Dee: Yes, of course. You don’t want to go to a miserable shop, so happy staff is a must.

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

Jimmy: I have one-to-ones with staff on a regular basis just a chat to make sure that they’re okay. I tell them I’m not a mind reader, so if they don’t tell me when there’s a problem, I won’t know. I tell them just to be honest.

Nas: I talk to them, keep an eye on them and give them direction. If I leave them to their own devices they get bored and miserable, whereas if you ensure they remain focused on the job in hand, then they’re happy.

Saki: If there’s anything not right with them, we’ll know. We get on well with our staff, so people talk to us if there’s a problem.

Dee: When they come on shift I’ll check with them if everything is okay. If they look down in the dumps, we’ll have a chat with them and see what’s up and how we can help.