“Are US Retail Workers Calling It Quits?” by Dennis Limmer via Retail Wire

“Are US Retail Workers Calling It Quits?” by Dennis Limmer via Retail Wire

According to a recent Bloomberg report, retail employees in the U.S. are “fed up and quitting at record rates.”

McKinsey study from 2022 found that the quit rate for retail and hospitality workers is over 70% higher than the overall U.S. quit rate. “Low pay, erratic schedules and monotonous tasks have long been a challenge for the nearly 8 million Americans working in retail,” Bloomberg noted, but things have been on a downward spiral since the pandemic.

Following health and safety issues, customer orneriness, and an increased onslaught in fulfilling online and curbside pickup orders, retail associates must now take on the brunt of shoplifting incidents sweeping the nation. This has caused somewhat of an exodus of retail workers who are choosing to quit their jobs.

There has been a distinct rise in the potential danger that employees have to face while working for retailers. Even if they obey company policy and avoid interactions with shoplifters, they might still be attacked, as in the case of an elderly woman “who’s had products being lobbed at her from the next aisle over while she’s straightening up,” according to NJ Pen.

Bloomberg stated that “nearly four out of five companies have seen a rise in ‘guest-on-associate violence’ over the last five years,” per a recent survey from the National Retail Federation.

Additionally, Fast Company reported that “one-third of frontline workers felt unsafe at their jobs last year, while 40% are more worried about physical safety than they were a year ago. Last year, 76% of employers had a security incident, with 80% of banking and healthcare reporting an incident,” according to a study done by Verkada.

The study also notes how a “quarter of people have turned down job opportunities because they were worried about their safety, and over 50% of frontline employees say they plan to quit within the next year if their employers don’t improve safety.”

Adding to employees’ frustrations, USA Today shared that many stores have begun locking up a majority of their products in protective cases. This adds further work for retail associates, which can prove frustrating and time-consuming as they run from aisle to aisle, unlocking various products. It also risks putting them in direct contact with anyone planning to steal those products.

Smaller retailers have helped their employees by providing special de-escalation training to help them handle angry, frustrated, and rude customers. Fortunately, this “kind of training has become more widespread, but Patrick Fennell, an assistant professor of marketing at Kennesaw State University, has found that less than 65% of lower-level-employees have received such instruction. That compares to 82% of managers.”

If turnover stays as high as it currently is — 95% for part-time retail workers “who make up the bulk of the in-store work force,” per Bloomberg — staffing shortages might be imminent, and this could lead to shortened store hours, according to Nasdaq. Already, stores like Costco are relying more on self-checkout lanes, while McDonald’s and Chipotle have reduced hours in many locations due to staff shortages.

Having fewer workers in a store may also cause the employees who remain to feel more overworked and stressed, which could lead to a poor customer experience. Hopefully, with the projected holiday hiring season just around the corner and more measures being taken against retail theft, things will turn around before retail stores find themselves sold out of employees.

Should all stores be providing new training for handling a variety of customer interactions? What other ways can stores ensure safer work environments and prepare their employees for the shifting times?

See how a variety of other retail experts weigh in below:

Neil Saunders

Working in retail is hard. Resourcing has become more of an issue, tasks are more complex due to omnichannel, customers are more demanding, and now there are various safety issues from areas like the pandemic and crime. It is hardly surprising that so many are quitting. Retailers need to make more effort to provide training, create interesting working environments, be flexible with hours, and reward through pay. Not treating staff well spirals into a poor customer experience which then spirals into reduced sales. Investment is critical.

Gary Sankary

Front-line retail work has always suffered from high turnover. It’s a tough business with low pay and crummy schedules. Typically, those who start their careers in retail quickly aspire to do something else. In the current economy, with record-low unemployment, there are more opportunities than ever for retail workers who want to jump. Add in the issues with safety and well-being, no one should be surprised, especially those retailers who continue to treat their employees poorly. Typically, these are the retailers who complain the loudest about not being able to find store teams.

Bob Amster

New training may help but, like most problems, they are best solved at the root cause. In the case of retail front line workers, there are multiple root causes, many (but not all) mentioned in this article. There is the way some supervisors treat the associates, there is top management’s lack of understanding of what really goes on in the trenches and the ensuing lack of empathy for those who put up with the problems on a daily basis. Sometimes, the problem is the attitude of the customers themselves and, while Stew Leonard’s etched-in-stone “Rules of Customer Service” are good guidelines, it does not make the job easier.

Ken Morris

Retail theft, rudeness, and violent outbreaks are making shopping a risky business. And, based on this report, things are way worse for front-line retail employees. The store interaction we are seeing is sadly a reflection of the growing divisiveness we are witnessing throughout our country. If our leaders act out like petulant children then what do we expect from the general populace? Just the fact that they’re using a battle term in the report, front-line, is a very bad sign. To keep the war-time analogy going, retailers need a plan to regain their own territory, aisle by aisle.

Retailers have tough enough margins already, so resorting to “combat pay” to stop defections is not a good option. They need allies, and we should get better allies in law enforcement and the laws that can enable them to fight back against this in-store crime wave. Adult leadership at the very top wouldn’t hurt, either.

No retail worker, management or “front-line” or otherwise, should have to worry about anything but making customers happy and being profitable. At the very least, this defense training should be standard practice for all associates.

David Spear

Many years ago, I was doing some change management consulting work for a large aluminum company. As I walked through the plant, I remember the pride employees took because of their ‘safety’ record, i.e. no worker injuries on the job. Who would have ever thought we’d be talking about ‘safety’ in retail? The number of incidents and injuries caused by criminal activity is problematic and so unfortunate for our country. Yet, here we are, and retailers need to do everything they can to train and protect their associates from the unruly, disrespectful customer to a full-blown in-store looting. Investments in technology, processes, people training, and local law enforcement relationships must be at the top of leadership’s priorities.

Peter Charness

Would be interesting to know what the quit rates were pre covid, and if todays rates are really that different? Retail has always been a stepping stone job with high turnover.

Scott Norris

And unmentioned contributors to turnover that weren’t mentioned in the article, such as child care cost and scarcity, increasing elder care needs, availability of affordable used vehicles and the lack of service techs to maintain them, were all exacerbated by the pandemic. It’s a massive negative feedback loop.

Seeing over a million Americans die in just a couple years without Federal officials even seeming to care and outright fighting common sense and proper science also leaves an impression that nothing matters and that life is capricious and short.

Katie Riddle

Enablement and support are key to retaining workers, if we look beyond the pay and scheduling issues. Automating low value tasks and shifting workers to high value tasks is one way to enable. Others are providing digital resources that help them do their job more effectively, like product knowledge bases, accurate real-time inventory and customer clienteling. They have to feel that the company is behind them 100% in order to feel any ownership in their job.

David Naumann

The retail store environment has continued to get worse from a theft and employee safety perspective and there is no silver bullet to solve the problem. Pun not intended. Coupled with historically low wages, it is creating a perfect storm spurring a mass exodus of retail employees. Training is definitely necessary to help retain employees, but it will take much more to make stores a safe place to work. While many retailers have just taken a hands-off approach to theft and just accepted it, it has now become out of hand. Finding a way to prosecute these crimes with the greatest penalty possible and publicizing the prosecutions may be one of the best methods to deter theft.

If the store environment doesn’t become safer, retailers will need to provide employees higher wages for “hazard pay.”

Doug Garnett

This one is quite clear: the problem at retail is that the only trustworthy people (for consumers) are on the front line. Yet they are the least trusted people in the company.

Retailers MUST stop imposing micromanagement on the front line dressed in metrics and NPS. Retailers have created their own employee disaster and middle management is too blame – enabled by executive management.

Most of what matters in retail cannot be measured. So stop trying to act otherwise. Empower store managers to hire good people, support them, and run good operations.

Kenneth Leung

Retailers need to support their workers with policies that protect them from shoplifters, irate customers and rogue social media clout chasers making a scene for views. Training is fine but retailers need to support their workers who are abused on the front line rather than sweep it under the rug just not to make waves. As long as retailers treat front line employees as disposable parts rather than customer service agents, retail workers will burn out and look for alternative employment

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