With retail being one of the most heavily impacted sectors throughout the pandemic, the recent lifting of restrictions as well as a slow transition into full capacity operations have presented the industry with a new obstacle – compensating for the lack of labor force.
A growing trend is taking place in which retail employees are leaving their jobs in pursuit of higher paying positions. Dissatisfied with the working conditions brought on by the pandemic and emboldened by a strengthening job market, former workers are taking the opportunity to find roles that provide remote options, benefits, and better wages. As Washington Post reporter Abha Bhattarai explains, “649,000 retail workers put in their notice in April,” contributing to what can only be described as the second-largest one-month exodus in over 20 years within the industry, as recorded by the Labor Department. The recent staffing issue has become an ongoing struggle for many employers since retail stores have begun to open back up for full capacity – circumstances which many who have worked in the sector before are not surprised of.
For millennials and even Gen-Z, to say that the industry undervalues its workers would amount to a cliché. From low wages and inconsistent hours to dealing with unruly customers as well as negotiating with unmoving managers, employees have become drained with the current state of their retail jobs. Rising sophomore Gloria Drizis describes her own retail experience working as a sales associate at Burlington over the summer: “When I first applied for the job, they hired me on the spot and I was really excited about it. They said they would work with my schedule and give me training. But just after my first week, I started working from evenings to midnight and my manager would be put in different roles despite not getting any training.”
When asked what the deciding factor was behind her quitting, Drizis revealed that she “…went in one day working a 6 hour shift and not getting a single break. I approached my manager and explained to them that I was entitled to at least a 15-minute break – I know that because that’s what they told me during my orientation. When they said that wasn’t case, I was surprised. I couldn’t even eat lunch because I was on my feet… Also, my managers kept getting my name wrong, even though I was wearing my nametag.”
Similar to Drizis’ account, the majority of retail employees who haven’t left the field also recount experiences of being undervalued, saying that franchise owners have been more focused on restoring the shopping experience of customers before the Covid-19 pandemic. According to a recent survey commissioned by retail operations platform Zipline, a majority of sales associates felt that their employers weren’t putting enough focus in improving their working conditions. Of the 500 responses, 42 percent expressed that they plan or are considering leaving the retail industry after the pandemic.
For larger figures in the industry, the numbers aren’t surprising. According to Vice President of the Retail Industry Leaders Association Evan Armstrong, “I think the hiring challenges in retail are not that different than the hiring challenges across the economy right now.” One reason Armstrong cites is the Unemployment Insurance government support stimulus, which in some cases has allowed workers to choose not to go back to work due to receiving more than their wages.
As the job market continues to recover and summer enters its last month, retail employers and former workers are navigating a post-pandemic world. With Covid-19 revealing the many pitfalls of the industry, it remains to be seen what initiatives will take place to improve the sector as a whole.