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6 Ways to Minimize Employee Downtime


Every company has their busy times and their slow times. Some employees think that downtime means they can take a break or stand around and chat. For organizations like clothing stores or banks, this can be very frustrating for managers who want to maximize productivity. Even asking employees to do other tasks that are not their primary role can be met with resistance. Here are six ways to maximize employee productivity during slow periods at your stores.

1. Communicate the Downtime Policy

It is very important to communicate the expectation of employees during downtime periods while the employees are going through new hire orientation. Reinforce the policy during every downtime.

The Container Store are well known for exceptional employee engagement and demonstrate from the off-set how much they value their staff. They say that hiring 1 great person is the equivalent in productivity to hiring 3 good people, so they are happy to offer good pay and development opportunities. In return, staff are expected to work hard and this is communicated clearly on the employee culture page of the website and through the hiring process.


2. Create a Downtime To-Do List

Create a running to-do list of items that need to be done, but not urgently. Make sure that any preparation to fulfill these tasks is accomplished beforehand so the task can be started as soon as a downtime episode arises. Communicate the importance of these tasks during the new hire orientation. By setting the tone as soon as an employee starts the more likely they will take the "downtime to-do list" seriously. A great way to build awareness of downtime tasks is to offer incentives and rewards for employees who complete a certain number of tasks. This will not only encourage employees to maximize their time but will create another area to recognize employees exceeding expectations and in turn, increase employee satisfaction. For more guidance about how to address non-urgent and important tasks, please see Steven Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.

3. Smooth out Foot Traffic

Every retail establishment should track foot traffic and make an effort to smooth it out as much as possible. By first understanding foot traffic patterns for your store, you can minimize employee downtime. Appointment scheduling is a great first step, but other ways to attract traffic during non-peak times could include discounts, how-to seminars, giveaways and free samples.

Footfall tracking is now widely available to retailers and can produce significant data that highlights invaluable trends to assist with staffing needs. Godiva, the luxury chocolate store, invested in in-store tracking to measure the footfall at particular times. Godiva used this data to plan staff schedules to reduce staff downtime and devise when special promotions or marketing is required to increase footfall during quiet periods.

Yorkshire Building Society was able to streamline their use of mortgage advisors based on the information from BookingBug. They used the information gathered to reduce admin time by 50% and use that time to provide better customer service.

Want to continue learning about staff efficiency? Download our Yorkshire Building Society case study, to learn how a top financial institution cut admin time by 50%.


4. Offer Appointment Scheduling

Being able to offer appointments during your establishment’s slow times is a great way to balance out the peaks and valleys of foot traffic. For example offering appointments only during low traffic times and not offering them on the weekends when traffic is consistently high can ensure you're maximizing employee’s time.

With appointment scheduling, employees are aware of their appointments can ensure they are prepared and pull appropriate clothes for a personal stylist appointment or have the correct mortgage applications ready for when the customer arrives. This will not only improve customer experience but likely to result is increased sales.

The ability for managers to see when to expect quiet periods also allows for forward planning in terms of assigning tasks to staff to increase productivity during down times.


5. Offer Employees the Option to Leave Early

Sometimes downtime periods will last the entire day. If this is the case, then offer employees the opportunity to leave early for the day. For hourly employees, the time off might be worth more than the paycheck. For salaried employees, some unexpected personal time off might be gratefully accepted.

6. Offer Training

Training employees or having them cross-trained by another employee during slower periods is a smart way to improve the skill set and the flexibility of your team.

By using down time to develop staff skills and abilities, employers are building a stronger workforce whilst also making employees feel valued by their employer. The Container Store, as mentioned previously, are consistently rated in the top 100 employers due to their investment in staff development. In comparison to the average 8 hours of training that employees would expect, The Container Company offer all new employees 200 hours of training in their first year of employment. This not only means they have a top class workforce ready to turn their hand to any task, but also that staff feel valued and invested in and are more likely to be productive.


These recommendations are easy to implement for your location and can pay huge dividends. Slow periods are a perfect opportunity to regroup and retrain. New technologies like appointment scheduling and data analysis allow you to better understand your customers’ preferences. Using these recommendations to develop methods will allow your store minimize the impact of employee downtime.

Want to continue learning about staff efficiency? Download our Yorkshire Building Society case study, to learn how a top financial institution cut admin time by 50%.