Document Type

Research Paper


A Research Project Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the MBA Degree Course: RSCH5500. Presented to Professor Martin W. Sivula Ph.D. Feinstein Graduate School. Johnson & Wales University Providence, Rhode Island


Employee retention can be a challenge for Human Resources in today’s business climate, especially in retail food service occupations due to long and sometimes unpredictable hours, limited benefits, and growth potential to name a few. Despite the obstacles, Whole Foods Market has been able to overcome such limitations allowing employees flourish and as a result have set an industry benchmark for reducing voluntary turnover. This case study research is an examination of Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey and his modern approach to leadership and its effect on employee retention. The purpose of the research is to examine the association between employee retention and modern leadership practices. Primary data was collected from observational field research and qualitative interviews with six Whole Foods Market personnel whom currently or have previously held positions throughout various departments within the company. To identify the perceptions of employees, detailed notes were transcribed, collected and evaluated. The study provided a number of key findings of successful practices: (1) establish a mission and values driven culture; (2) provide a thriving environment in which your employees can be their true selves; (3) empower employees by encouraging innovation and dispersed decision making; (4) offer individual and team incentives for ideal behavior and performance; and (5) promote growth opportunities both vertically and laterally within the company. The conclusion answered the primary research question and argues for emphasis on the role of modern leadership approaches such as servant, values and decentralized leadership theory to improve retention efforts.

Employee retention is of growing concern for Human Resources regardless of business initiatives to reduce turnover costs and strengthen competitive advantages. Due to the nature of food service, hospitality and retail industries including low wages, long working hours, unfair healthcare, inadequate benefits, insufficient training & development in addition to limited job growth, employee dissatisfaction and voluntary turnover is on the rise. The importance of this subject is to be able to provide collected qualitative data in the form of best practices in support of foodservice retail companies so they too are able to retain valuable human capitol in a similar fashion as Whole Foods Market has been able to do. This case study research investigation will evaluate the effects of John Mackey’s approach to reduce voluntary turnover and improve employee retention at Whole Foods Market as seen through the eyes of current and past employees of the company.

The objectives of this case study research are:

  • Review and dissect literature on employee retention, turnover and job satisfaction
  • Examine the non-traditional leadership concepts, culture and philosophies of Whole Foods Market, honing in on Co-founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, John Mackey
  • Interpret observation and qualitative results of interviews conducted with current and past employees (Team Members) of Whole Foods Market
  • Study factors that contribute to a sustainable work force and strong organizational mission, values and culture

Citation/Publisher Attribution

Pearson, K. (2012). Whole foods market ™ case study: Leadership and employee retention. Johnson & Wales University, Providence, RI.



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