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Gift Shop Plus Winter 2021
Short Staffed? By Keith Loria

How to find employees in the current worker shortage

RA recent Gallup poll revealed that at the height of the pandemic, 68% of employed U.S. adults were working from home and only 26% felt they were emotionally ready to return to their workplace, with 25% saying they wouldn’t return if needed over fears of contracting the virus.

That has made it somewhat difficult for gift shop owners to get workers in the stores and help try to salvage business in 2020— especially for the busy holiday season.

Darrin Hess, human resource manager of P. Graham Dunn, which manufactures art, gifts and home décor and has numerous retail shops, shared when COVID kept employees from coming in, the company turned to known help and utilized temporary employment agencies to help fill retail staff positions.

“In order to retain current employees and attract new employees, we have increased our starting wages,” he said. “We have seasonal and other temporary employees who help with special events throughout the year who were available to assist if we needed additional help. We have also asked current part-time employees to assist by working more hours than they are typically scheduled.”

Jill Santopietro Panall, owner of 21Oak HR Consulting, said she has worked with a number of retail clients since the pandemic began who have struggled greatly with hiring and retaining employees during COVID times.

“Employees in retail tend to be on the lower end of the pay scale and often don’t have Cadillac health plans (or plans at all) so they are justifiably and disproportionately afraid of getting sick compared to office workers with strong health insurance and limited exposure to the public,” she said.

The key to attracting workers, she noted, is making safety practices strong, non-negotiable and not performative-only.

“Store owners and managers should make an outsized effort towards safety, creating strong and clearly communicated policies, providing an adequate supply of PPE and cleaning equipment, creating safer store spaces, and most importantly, truly enforce the mask policies of their state or their company,” Santopietro Panall said. “If you are a private company, you can make your own rules about how clients to the store behave as long as they are not discriminatory in nature but allowing clients to not wear masks puts employees at risk and shows a disregard for their health and safety and that of other clients.”

It’s tough to balance a retailer’s need to continue being profitable, but it’s necessary to enforce this or you could lose your workers or find even more serious issues.

“Retailers face a risk of employee resignations, bad reviews from other customers who are uncomfortable with maskless people, potential spread of illness, and even a potential of a workers’ compensation claim for an employee who does fall ill after being subjected to an unsafe workplace,” she said.

Tips for Getting Workers

To help retailers the National Retail Federation is posting all job opportunities for free on its site (, helping to match employees with companies that need them.

An out-of-the-box idea, Hess noted, is for small stores to share employees with other small retailers. “Another possibility would be to reach out to other businesses that have had to close their doors, or lay off employees, and ask them to share your hiring needs with their former employees,” he said.

Throughout the pandemic, many small retailers have conducted virtual interviews to hire staff and have relied on social media to find candidates. Hess noted that gift stores can also share job openings through emails and social media messaging; it is a great way to attract people and spread the news quickly. Another option is to post to nearby college sites to find workers who may be home due to the pandemic.

The key takeaway — digitize recruitment, forge online connections, leverage virtual meetings, and maintain a conversation with promising talents for future placement.

Beware the Stopgap Employee

In today’s current economic climate, there has been an increase in job seekers applying for positions that could make gift shop owners recruiting new staff feeling overwhelmed by the number of job applications.

It’s important that the one doing the hiring vets the potential employee properly and figures out if they are just seeking any job, and will leave if something better comes along, or if they will be reliable and stay with your business.

Simon Royston, founder and managing director of The Recruitment Lab, noted a store owner should start by creating a profile of the candidate they wish to recruit, understanding the level of experience you want, what key duties they likely will be undertaking, how many hours a week you want them to work and how flexible you would let the job be.

“You want someone who is committed to the role and I would expect you may see a large number of applications that you may feel are over-qualified or you have a number of applications that look amazing but are not really committed,” he said. “Hiring someone who is overqualified for a role is actually very different to hiring someone not committed to the role. You can successfully engage overqualified candidates, but it takes some consideration to get it right.”

Onboarding Issues

David Garcia, CEO of ScoutLogic, a pre-employment background check company, noted the pandemic is bringing extra challenges to the onboarding process as well.

“For example, with background checks, many courts are closed or have reduced hours, creating delays in returning proper background information,” he said. “You will want to make sure you have adequate time for all of your compliance-related onboarding tasks before you hire someone during COVID.”

With COVID cases climbing, it’s quite possible that hiring issues will last deep into 2021, so it’s important that shop owners continue talking with their staff and preparing for next steps if someone decides to leave.

Keith Loria

A graduate of the University of Miami, Keith Loria is an award-winning journalist who has been writing for major newspapers and magazines for close to 20 years, on topics as diverse as sports, business, theater and retail. He started his career with the Associated Press and has held high editorial positions at Rinkside, BCA Insider and Soap Opera Digest. You can view some of his recent writing at

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