15 Employees From Retail Hell and What To Do About Them

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Published July 25, 2013. Updated September 16, 2022.

The most important assets any business has are its employees. 

In retail, employees being an asset is doubly true because they not only stock the merchandise but also have to sell it.

Your store's success is directly linked to their attitudes, behaviors, and abilities.

Sometimes you discover you’ve got a worker from hell.

You know, the Bitter Betty employee who looks like they sucked on a lemon.

They pour water on a customer's passion for a product causing the customer to leave empty-handed.

And worse, sometimes, they can be your senior staff who should know better.

Take a look at the following employees from hell to discover what might be keeping your store from increasing sales. 

The 15 Employees From Hell

1. The Know-It-All. No matter how you tell this person how you want something done, they always say that they already do it that way... but they continue to keep doing it wrong.

2. The Negative Nancy. Nothing is going right. No one is doing anything well. Everything is someone else's fault. They suck the exuberance out of living.

3. The Child. This one is constantly making a list of what they will do, but they never get it done - unless you continually nag them. They always leave messes for others to clean up, and they are out the door at 5 pm regardless of whether they've finished or not...usually not.

4. The Zombie. These are the ones who think if their body shows up, that’s enough; that their job is just to be present for their shift. No effort, no engagement, no self-directed activity. They are bored from the moment they clock in.

5. The Thief. Obviously, these are the ones who steal your merchandise.

6. The Discounter. These people find a way to offer unauthorized discounts to customers to make sales. They’ll say they had to price-match, or they'll hide evidence of having used discount codes for customers who did not qualify for those discounts. They then compound their crime by bragging about their numbers, claiming they were generated because the customers like their service better.

7. The Lawyer. This demon does only what is in their job description instead of understanding that they must go with the flow.

8. The Busybody. They love to know everyone’s business. And they gossip about everyone’s business to everyone... about their employers, other employees, and customers.

9. The Arguer. They never like how you do a task, a display, or a sale. They want to do it their way. They’ll argue to your face that you’re wrong. They’ll argue just to be right.

10. The Phantom. These are always texting or taking personal calls while they ignore all of your customers.

11. The Corpse. These are the ones with that deer-in-the-headlights expression when you ask them to do something. They look at you and smile without nodding or indicating they heard you. They just stand there. They'd rather be dead than be your employee.

12. The Soulless Plodder. They take forever to clean, stack, organize or price something. Their goal is to stretch out a job for as long as possible, showing just enough progress to say they are getting it done.

13. The Despot. When the boss is away, they do everything except what they are supposed to do; in their eyes, they have free reign. They take long breaks, don't greet customers, or do the rest of their job. When they do deal with customers, they are short and rude and given enough freedom; they will close up early.

14. The Ninja. They are the ones who hide behind the rack, find things to do in the stockroom to keep them off the sales floor, or disappear as soon as someone enters their section. They would rather be stacking pants, re-pricing, or cleaning. They don't like to talk to anyone..., especially your customers.

15. The Distractor. These associates spend all their time preventing other employees from working. No one gets anything done...and that's fine with them.

What to do

You can hire better next time by:

  • Asking better questions about their self-direction.
  • Listening for their propensity to talk about others rather than themselves.
  • Looking for these types of behaviors in their mannerisms, eye contact, and voice inflection.

If you decide to keep them...train the hell out of them.

Using a sales management process, show them what you want, role-play the situations that get them in trouble, and let them know that you expect better.

Have a frank discussion about their behaviors and how you are feeling about their work.

Highlights of these discussions can include:

  • Giving more black and white examples and less grey for them to abuse during your retail sales training.
  • Reminding them to curtail gossip from the start, saying you don’t like it on your sales floor.
  • Making sure they know their jobs are broad-based and not specific.
  • Letting them know arguing is never appropriate and that if you hear it, it is grounds for immediate dismissal.

You can also manage the crew better by:

  • Not being afraid to have corrective conversations with team members. You’re their boss, not their pal.
  • If an associate is going out of their way to avoid the job of selling, give them retail sales training, set performance metrics, and coach them. If there is no improvement within a few days, realize it’s not a skill issue; it’s a will issue.
  • Take away perks like having coffee at the counter, chairs behind the counters, and anything that encourages creating a cozy clique of associates.

Remember to give them a chance to change.

Give them no more than a week before you have another discussion about their progress and include a written review. If training the hell out of them hasn’t worked, make yourself happy and fire them.

You aren’t doing anyone any favors by letting them cross over to the dark side when they step over your business’ threshold.

That’s because, in business, you can’t afford to compromise your success.

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