Treating staff well isn’t rocket science – but it can supercharge retail performance.

Pets at Home has been named the best place to work in the UK’s retail sector, after a survey by digital work platform WorkL.


Worker satisfaction was measured in a number of categories, including reward and recognition, and information sharing, showing that the happiness of Pets at Home staff wasn’t entirely based on having cute rabbits in the shop – though that surely helped.


Retail Gazette: Pets at Home crowned ‘best place to work’ in UK retail.


The results of the poll reflects first hand reports from Pets at Home employees, who do seem to genuinely like their work. Head office staff even enjoy a dog-friendly office.


But the point of this column isn’t just based on a fondness for animals.


Retail Gazette: Pets at Home sales jump as customer numbers rise.


In a retail market that is seeing shoppers cut back on many essentials and shift their spend further into own-brand products, Pets at Home recorded a jump in sales for the 16 weeks to late July. Sales rose by 7.9% to £436.8m, with like-for-like revenues up by the same percentage. That is a strong performance at any time.


The retailer saw volume growth in premium categories, meaning that its customers are trading up on the products they buy for their pets – while customers at mainstream supermarkets are increasingly downshifting their spend on themselves to discount rivals.


This behaviour can’t be completely disentangled from the UK’s odd but deep-seated attachment to animals, and to an increase in pet ownership as more people work from home.


But neither can it be disentangled from the simple truth that happier staff perform better. In a service-led business that is an essential element of stronger sales.


It is often said that one of the chief reasons for leaving a job is dislike for one’s immediate managers, and the inverse is also true. If you have good managers, decent conditions and a pleasant workplace, you will invariably stay in a job longer – and work harder.


Most people will have experienced bad workplaces, or poor managers, and be keen to avoid both in the future. Which makes it all the stranger to see so many retail and hospitality companies treat employees badly, to the extent that Pets at Home stands out for its positive attitude.


I have seen managers at large retail chains being rude to staff in front of customers, heard store assistants moaning about their managers while manning the tills, and seen the branch manager of a well-known pizza chain sobbing in the car park because of pressure from head office. 


It is an instinctive reaction to consider those businesses to be failing not just their employees, but their customers. If they don’t care for their employees, what do they think of the rest of us?


Pets at Home deserves congratulations for treating its staff well – but many other retailers deserve criticism for failing to approach the same standards. They may well be paying the price in the form of lower sales.