Lament about the challenges of quiet quitting to members of the retail industry, and chances are they’ll say, “I’ve got a story for you.”
Quiet quitting, a term that gained momentum in August, refers to a worker’s refusal to go above and beyond for an employer, or doing the bare minimum. Nearly half of all U.S. workers are quiet quitting, according to a September Gallup Poll, and in the retail industry the figures are likely higher.
If you’re not alarmed yet, hold on. It gets worse. The actual quit rate in retail and hospitality now outpaces the national rate by 70%, McKinsey research shows. Retail turnover climbed as high as 65% in recent years, according to Ceridian, a human resources management software firm.
This is expensive. Disengaged workers cost the global economy $7.8 trillion in lost productivity (Gallup’s Global Workplace: 2022 Report).
Why Quiet Quitting Is Common In Retail
The retail and hospitality industry is the largest employment sector, representing nearly 20% of the U.S. labor force (McKinsey). Yet a lot of those 20% enter the field knowing they won’t stay long.
For starters, many who enter retail are transient – young students and part-timers seeking a little extra cash or an easy entry-level job. Add low pay, limited benefits, inconsistent hours and an old-fashioned lack of purpose, and retail employees eventually tend to seek out something better.
Retailers made efforts to change this even before the pandemic. In 2019, Costco, Target and Amazon, among others, committed to raising hourly wages to $15, according to CNN reports. But it was not enough to prevent the “great resignation.”
The Pandemic Upended Those Pay Efforts
By 2020, the pandemic year, the retail industry turnover rate exceeded 57%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That followed rates of 42% to 45% from the years 2016 to 2019.
Retailers scrambled. In 2021, Costco raised its minimum wage to $17 an hour, and Amazon was offering jobs averaging $18 an hour, PYMNTS reported.
But retailers are still having to stretch to meet shopper demands; particularly in delivery. Amazon’s 2022 mandatory overtime policy requires that full-time workers be on-call for at least one overtime shift per week, according to a description on QuerySprout. (Hourly workers get paid time-and-a-half.)
In the meantime, jobs are opening up in some other industries, but the birth rate is declining – to just 14 babies per 1,000 people in 2001 from 17 per 1,000 in 1990, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These factors form an “employee market” that’s hard to resist. Here’s the punchline: There are literally fewer people to fill the jobs than there were a few years ago, so this hole is only going to get deeper.
How To Re-Engage Quiet Quitters, 4 Retail-Learned Tips
As of April 2022, nearly half of frontline retail workers were considering leaving their jobs in three to six months, McKinsey’s 2022 report states. If workers are thinking of quitting, then they are likely quiet quitting already.
This is where the “I’ve got a story for you” comes in. Here are the four work conditions retailers learned their employees most want.
- Retail workers want more flexibility. Inconsistent schedules are common in retail, and this limits the ability for workers to plan. It is especially challenging for parents with children at home. Best Buy addresses this issue through its Backup Child Care program, which provides up to 10 days of subsidized child care a year. (Best Buy also implemented paid caregiver leave.) Other flexible practices that might bring workers around include easier shift swapping, the freedom to pick from a selection of roles per shift, and opportunities to learn new skills.
- Employers should expect their workers to eventually “act their wage.” This term once applied to workers who lived beyond their pay scale. Now it’s different: If pay is below the national average and employees do not feel supported or encouraged, their work will reflect that. Maybe not in the first week, maybe not in the first few months, but it will, and it will hurt the entire system. If retailers cannot afford to pay higher wages, they should explore other ways to add value to the jobs. A dialog with the workforce will reveal what employees value beyond pay.
- It’s your job to give your workers purpose. This includes career development opportunities. Frontline retail work is typically monotonous, and workers rely heavily on two groups of people to keep them inspired: their customers (who retailers cannot control), and their managers and coworkers (who retailers can). When purpose is instilled at the highest levels, it should work its way down to the frontlines. Think creatively; beyond the industry. REI often ranks as a best place to work because it engages its workers in environmental acts, a core company mission – and it will foot the bill for time off to put the mission into action.
- Recognize their value from before day one. Don’t set workers up to quit. Hiring for any position is a major investment, and it should be approached as strategically as other central operations, like inventory management. This requires a playbook that spells out the needs and culture of the job, the talent that suits those needs and how to empower that talent to thrive. Employee reward programs are a useful tool in this respect. Amazon-owned Zappos’ operates a peer-to-peer reward program that encourages workers to award each other with $50 bonuses, called “Zappos dollars,” that can redeemed for swag and other perks.
Let’s hope retailers continue to learn from these employment takeaways. Because while this isn’t retail’s first round with quiet quitting, the practice is more complicated and widespread, thanks to job opportunities in other industries (and encouragement from peers on social media). Retailers are competing with tech companies, government agencies, law firms and contractors.
The ability to prevent quiet quitting has its own job requirements, and they start with learning from a company’s own workforce experience. Quiet workers aren’t a good sign. Speak up about it.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.