Study Reveals Holiday Season “Anxiety Index” for Retail Managers and Employees

Survey also shows optimal training time to prepare seasonal and full-time employees for the holiday shopping rush, and ranks their biggest concerns 

As the mania of holiday shopping continues to evolve, the final two months of the year have become increasingly important and stressful for all involved. But while media narratives tend to focus on sales projections, tensions between online and brick-and-mortar shopping, and mob behavior on Black Friday, little attention is paid to the employees and managers on the front lines of the holiday madness.

In order to understand how managers and employees think, feel, and prepare for the holidays, Bridge by Instructure surveyed more than 500 retail employees and 500 retail managers across the US in October of 2016. Taken together, the study’s results reveal the psyche of frontline retail workers ahead of the 2016 shopping season, and how training and preparation impact their attitudes and confidence.

More specifically, the results show that there’s a significant disconnect between how prepared managers and employees feel about handling the additional demands of the holiday season, with employees feeling considerably less confident. Additionally, the survey shows that quality in training matters much more than quantity, even suggesting an optimal number of training hours before reaching diminishing returns. This report details the study’s key findings.

Seasonal Confidence Gap

While a majority of managers and employees feel prepared to meet their sales goals in 2016, managers are significantly more confident than employees. This is perhaps because employees report receiving less training than their managers report providing.

  • Employees report spending 2-5 hours training for the holiday season, while managers report spending 6-10 hours training employees
  • 70% of managers feel their teams are “very prepared” to handle the additional demands of the holiday retail season, but only 56% of employees feel this way
  • 66% of managers feel “very confident” their teams will reach their goals for the 2016 holiday season, while only 53% of employees feel “very confident” their teams will reach their goals
  • While 92% of managers feel their organization allows them to hire sufficient holiday help, only 80% of employees feel their organizations do so
  • Only 3% of managers report they don’t offer seasonal training, but 11% of employees report their employers don’t offer seasonal training

Incentive disconnect

  • Managers and employees also disagree about the prevalence of spiffs, bonuses, prizes and other incentives to keep motivation high during the grueling holiday retail season. In fact, employees are three times more likely than managers to report that their organization offers no incentives during the holiday shopping season.

Quality vs. Quantity: What is the optimal training time?

Both retail managers and employees report their organizations are hiring a lot more seasonal help than they used to, making it increasingly important for organizations to evaluate their training processes and programs to meet consumer expectations. The survey suggests there is no significant benefit in additional seasonal training beyond 6-10 hours, pointing to a kind of “sweet spot” for holiday training.


  • When managers spend 20 or more hours training employees for the holiday season, 63% feel “very confident” their teams will reach their goals
  • However, of managers who spend just 6-10 hours training employees for the holiday season, 73% feel “very confident” their teams will reach their goals


  • When employees receive 20 or more hours of seasonal training, 67% feel “very confident” their teams will reach their goals
  • However, of employees who receive just 6-10 hours of training, 65% still feel “very confident” their teams will reach their goals

Training time: For some, not much

  • 1 in 4 employees (25%) receive 0-1 hours of season training

Season’s Feelings: A Holiday Anxiety Index

Both managers and employees agree that the holiday season is chaotic, but managers are generally more excited for it than employees.

  • 48% of managers agree the holiday retail season feels chaotic and unpredictable, compared to 51% of employees
  • 41% of managers “strongly agree” they feel excitement for the holiday retail season, compared to  27% of employees
  • When asked what their biggest concern is for the 2016 holiday shopping season, shoplifting/fraud came in at number one for both managers and employees (see full results below)

Employees’ Top Holiday Season Concerns

  1. Shoplifting/fraud
  2. Hiring enough qualified employees
  3. Working Thanksgiving Day and/or Black Friday
  4. Training employees to handle the holiday rush
  5. Achieving sales quotas and employee burnout (ranked equally)
  6. Cyber security threats and rude or angry customers (ranked equally)
  7. Inventory concerns
  8. Losing business to online retailers

Managers’ Top Holiday Season Concerns

  1. Shoplifting/fraud
  2. Hiring enough qualified employees
  3. Achieving sales quotas
  4. Cyber security threats
  5. Inventory concerns
  6. Training employees to handle the holiday rush
  7. Employee burnout
  8. Working Thanksgiving Day and/or Black Friday
  9. Losing business to online retailers
  10. Handling upset or aggressive customers on Black Friday

New tech: Chip cards still causing chaos?

  • The most popular types of new technologies both managers and employees will use this holiday season are new point-of-sale systems, followed by payments processing/merchant software, new/updated websites, anti-fraud tech, and internet security software.

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