A Worrying Amount of Retail Workers Plan to Leave the workforce

Up to 42% of retail workers say they plan to leave the workforce--and that’s bad news for retailers already facing a labor shortage as the U.S. reopens.
retail associate

That’s according to a new survey from Zipline, dubbed the “2021 Labor of Love Report,” that surveyed 500 retail associates in early May to better understand their feelings on the changing state of retail, workplace environments and how they connect with customers amid the pandemic.

“Following a turbulent year for the retail industry, our report shows that retail associates want to feel heard by their employers and that there is an overall breakdown in communication and engagement between retailers and their employees,” Melissa Wong, co-founder and CEO of Zipline, told Retail Leader. “The survey showed overall concerns from retail associates about the ways retailers are bringing the love back to stores and their workforce.”

The findings come at a time when retailers and brands are rehiring workers who were laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic when stores were temporarily closed. As states reopen amid an improving environment, finding workers has become more challenging, and retailers likely need to listen and respond to associates’ concerns in order to meet consumer demand and maintain their workforce.

One of the biggest issues for retail associates noted in the survey was not having a voice--43% of respondents said they don't feel consistently heard when making suggestions to retail headquarters about in-store changes and improvements. That communication breakdown is even more clear after 54% of associates in the survey said they were not aware if their employer supported the 15% pledge, which was a 2020 pledge that many retailers took to commit at least 15% of their shelf-space to black-owned businesses.

“Even before COVID, there was a disconnect between HQ and Stores and it’s not because of ill intent. Stores want to do well, people fundamentally want to succeed,” Wong said. “HQ wants their initiatives to go well or be smoothly implemented, but the average rate of execution (something getting done by a store) is only 29%. This disconnect in communication is WHY associates don’t want to follow corporate directions AND is why associates plan to leave the workforce -- they feel disconnected from the brand, unsure about if the company is prioritizing their health and wellbeing, and they’re not feeling recognized or heard.”

Not all associates also believe stores are doing enough to recapture consumers coming out of the pandemic. Just 51% who said their retail brand is pioneering new ways of engaging customers in physical stores. Another 33% said they don’t think retailers are doing enough to bring back the excitement and emotional connection that customers have missed.

“I think the pandemic really exacerbated the feelings of frustration by employees,” Wong said. “They’re being asked to do more with less. In order to retain employees, companies will need to find better ways to engage them and make them feel connected to the larger strategy. It’s even more critical now that hiring employees is so difficult.”

And there are many ways for retailers to step up and ensure their associates feel heard, supported and engaged in the business, including streamlining communication from the top down for better alignment with the brand’s goals and objectives. 

“As a company, it’s a mindset shift from being flush with labor options, to having to showcase why you’re a brand that an individual would want to work at… and why that individual’s work matters beyond the minimum wage check they get,” Wong said.