- Retail and restaurant workers quit at record pace amid crippling labor shortage.
- They cite poor pay and working conditions, but rude clients also play a role, polls suggest.
- It’s time for consumers to take some of the blame and for employees to empower their employees.
The blame game over the labor shortage has rebounded between employers, workers and unemployment benefits.
Business owners have accused workers of being lazy or deterred by expanding federal unemployment benefits – while workers say they aren’t paid enough for what they do and seek better wages, benefits and schedules.
But polls suggest another group bears some of the blame: consumers who treated workers badly and led some of them to quit their retail jobs and refuse to return to the industry.
In a survey of restaurant workers earlier this year, eight in ten said they experienced hostile behavior from customers who did not want to follow COVID-19 safety protocols. About half said they were considering quitting their jobs, and among this group, four in ten said it was due to hostility and harassment from customers.
A survey of restaurant workers released in August found similar results – more than two-thirds said one of the main reasons for the labor shortage was disrespect for customers.
At the same time, data from the labor department suggests that workers in customer-facing positions quit at higher rates than in other sectors. The agency’s most recent employment report showed hotel, food service and retail workers quit at a higher rate in August than the record national rate that month – Meanwhile, the United States still lacks more than 200,000 retail jobs.
The customer is not always right
The idea that “the customer is always right,” which dates back over 100 years, has led to authorized consumers and more assaults on retail workers, Insider’s Avery Hartman recently reported.
Some customers have vented their frustrations onto the cashier checking their groceries or onto the fast food worker at the drive-thru window.
This happened more and more as the pandemic progressed: From the start, consumers celebrated frontline retail workers, hailing them as “heroes” who risked their lives to empower people. to buy essentials.
“I think my members felt really good about what they did because they were saving their communities,” Marc Perrone, president of UFCW, the largest union of sales workers in the UK, recently told Insider. US retail.
But that mindset changed over time, and workers increasingly reported feeling like they were risking their lives only to be abused by rude or aggressive customers. Some of these workers had to enforce COVID-19 safety rules in stores and ask shoppers to wear masks or provide proof of vaccination.
“Store owners didn’t want to tell customers to wear a mask, customers felt entitled and workers got caught in the middle. I don’t think most employers took it seriously enough,” Perrone said.
Clashes between workers became more frequent and, in one case, claimed the life of a worker.
“No wonder so many people don’t want to return to their old customer-facing jobs or quit soon after they return,” Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business, told Insider. School.
The balance of power is changing
The tight labor market is forcing some employers to raise wages and improve benefits. But companies could go even further to retain staff by rebalancing power between customers and workers. Stores such as Gap and H&M are already realizing this by launching campaigns to protect workers from hostile customers.
Employers could, for example, provide staff with “safety support in dealing with bad customer behavior,” Cohen said.
Without these protections, workers are more likely to quit, especially now that they are in a better position to do so during labor shortages.
“Workers will understandably seek a better decision for themselves, something they haven’t had the luxury of in the past,” Cohen said.
If you work in retail and have a story to share, please contact this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.