Trader Joe’s 4 Secret Ingredients for Employee Engagement

Trader Joe’s 4 Secret Ingredients for Employee Engagement


Everyone loves the Mandarin Orange Chicken at Trader Joes. However, that’s not all customers love! According to the 2018 Temkin Experience Ratings Report, Trader Joe’s ranked 12thamong the top 50 Organizations in retail and hospitality. How? Employee Engagement.

At Trader Joe’s, that same superior experience is extended to its employees as well. Glassdoor has ranked them 70th on their 2018’s best places to work report with a rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars and an 87% CEO approval rating.


Similarly, Trader Joe’s boasts an A- ‘Company Culture Score’ on Comparably.



In an industry notorious for high turnover rates, this is no small feat. Evidently, the Mandarin Orange Chicken recipe isn’t the only recipe Trader Joe’s has perfected. The Californian grocery chain has also managed to curate the perfect ingredients for employee engagement.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we’d like to share this Employee Engagement recipe with you:


1. Positive Working Environment

When having a discussion with anyone who has ever stepped a foot into Trader Joe’s, they will undoubtedly bring up the friendly staff and charming atmosphere. Trader Joe’s employees are consistently some of the happiest people you will come by in your weekly routines, always willing to lend a helping hand and share a recipe or even a story. But how and why are they always so happy?!

Aesthetically, Trader Joe’s has an easy going, down to earth feel. Their walls are adorned with shiplap panels and murals of approachable animation. The bright colors found in the murals seem to be inspired by the fresh fruits and veggies section where those same colors carry over onto the labels in the near isles and then to the employee’s cheerful Hawaiian shirts, giving them a unique working environment incomparable to other grocers.


2. Autonomy

We all know that while strategic at times, a pretty office isn’t enough to generate employee engagement; At least not to the level Trader Joe’s has achieved. As it turns out, each Trader Joe’s store is operated as its own entity with a ‘Captain’, ‘Mate’, ‘Merchant’ and ‘Crew’.

  • At the helm sits a captain who optimizes every process and task the crew executes and is always (yes, always!) internally promoted to the position.
  • The Captain is then supported by a team of ‘Mates’, who are also, always (right again!) internally promoted. They work side by side with the crew to teach them the ropes on all things from manning the register to stocking shelves.
  • Then there’s the ‘Merchants’ and ‘Crew’. While the greenhorns of the bunch, they are listed as “The Heart and Soul” of Trader Joe’s on their website. They do a bit of everything; handling deliveries, bagging groceries, cleaning floors, offering samples to customers, you get the gist.

By creating a corporate culture as such above, employees trust they can grow and develop within the Trader Joe’s framework. They have heard and seen their direct colleague’s go through this rewarding journey and realize if they put in the effort, they too can and will be acknowledged.

This structure creates a very tightly knit group of individuals. Since the mates work alongside the crew day in and day out, close relationships begin to form. This is beneficial for a number of reasons:

  • Promoting equality through the ranks
  • Enforcing best practices every day
  • If a lower level employee recognizes an inefficiency or opportunity for improvement, he or she is most likely more apt to bring this up to someone they feel most comfortable with. With a number of managers to choose from the less likely that inefficiency will be withheld.
  • Spreading new ideas like wild fire!