Why Grocery Workers Are Quitting

Axonify survey shows burnout is a bigger issue than wages
Gina Acosta, Progressive Grocer
Why Grocery Workers Are Quitting
A Whole Foods Market worker prepares to deliver grocery pickup orders to shoppers' cars.

Nearly half of front-line workers are planning to leave their jobs, and the reason may surprise you.

According to Axonify's annual Global State of Frontline Work Experience Study, retail workers reported burnout (63%) as being a more important motivating factor for resigning compared to compensation (50%), with grocery workers citing 56% burnout.

“Everyone is talking about the future of work, but too many of these conversations focus solely on the corporate employee experience and don’t consider the frontline. The time has come to rethink the front-line work experience,” said Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify. “Successful companies realize that front-line workers are the face of their brand. We need to emphasize the importance of this group’s experience to ensure they are supported and provided with equitable opportunities so they can advance their careers — and serve as brand ambassadors.”

This week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the number of people quitting their jobs in the United States reached yet another record high in August, with about 4.3 million Americans leaving their jobs behind — especially in retail, where the quit rate is 4.7%.

The Axonify survey engaged over 2,500 front-line employees in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia from a range of industries including retail, grocery, finance, banking, insurance and professional sales to learn more about the experience of working on the frontlines through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Key takeaways from the report include: 

More Pay Doesn’t Justify Poor Conditions

While many front-line employees report pay as a motivator to stay at a company (49%), compensation doesn’t even make the top three resignation factors. Front-line workers aren’t just looking for better pay, they’re looking for better conditions when they are overworked and burned out. 

Almost half of front-line employees reported they’re planning to leave their current jobs, with Gen Z most eager to leave (63%). When front-line employees were asked why they’re planning to resign, over half of respondents cited feeling burned out at work (58%), followed by a lack of appreciation from management and/or peers (53%), and a lack of interest in daily work (52%), with poor compensation (52%) coming in fourth. When looking at the different industries, retail workers reported burnout (63%) as being a more important motivating factor for resigning compared to compensation (50%).

How can employers prevent front-line employees from jumping ship? Compensation matters, but employees say they also want more flexible scheduling (44.2%), more appreciation (42.6%) and more positive relationships at work (42%).

Room for Improvement Regarding Equity on the Frontlines

While an increased spotlight on social justice has motivated organizations to rethink their approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB), the report shows employers still have a long way to go. Based on the 2021 findings, three key areas of equity disparity on the frontline emerged: gender, work location and job status. 

Gender: There is a clear gender gap in the front-line work experience.

Employees that identify as male reported higher satisfaction with their compensation (70%) compared to employees that identify as female (60%). These same employees reported greater satisfaction on issues like manager trust (72% vs 62%), pandemic support (78% vs 70%) and career development (69% vs 59%). 

Front-line vs. Corporate: The data also revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic has expanded the existing disparity gap between corporate and front-line workers. Office workers were much more satisfied (86%) with their support as compared to store/branch employees (67%). Similarly, more than 8 out of 10 office workers were happy with everyday work (81%), but less than two-thirds of store/branch employees felt the same (64%). 

Job Status: Full-time employees reported higher job satisfaction compared to part-time workers. Just a little less than two-thirds of part-time workers (vs 80% of full time workers) were satisfied with the support provided by their employers during the pandemic. Half of part-time workers trust their manager to consider employee wellbeing when making decisions vs.72% for full-time workers.

“Fostering an inclusive and equitable workplace shouldn’t even be a question. Every single person deserves the opportunity to do and be their best at work. And not only is it the right thing to do, but focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is also a strong business strategy. Yet, employers with front-line employees still have considerable room for improvement in this area," Leaman said.

Front-line Workers Crave Career and Skill Development Opportunities

Although billed as a corporate imperative, front-line training tends to take a backseat due to access and turnover. Retail associates, grocery workers, contact center agents and delivery drivers are difficult to reach with traditional courses and training programs. And heavy turnover in front-line roles often makes training less of a priority. Based on this year’s findings, internal skill development remains inconsistent but is in demand.

Over one-third of employees say they only receive training during big job changes like transfers and promotions (36%) and nearly one-quarter reported rarely or never receiving additional training (20%). When employees were asked about access to skill development, less than half indicated having access to developing their career advancement skills like management and leadership even though more than one-third had requested it. Training and skills development is even bleaker in retail and grocery with only half of retail workers and less than two-thirds of grocery workers getting the opportunity to take on new responsibilities and advance their careers. Training can be a motivator to help combat burnout. When front-line employees were asked what would motivate them to stay at a company, one-third said more career advancement opportunities (34%) and access to more training and skill development (32%).

Findings from the 2021 Global State of Frontline Work Experience Study were derived from a survey conducted by Arlington Research gathered between July 22 and Aug. 2, surveying 2,564 respondents from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. At the time of the survey, respondents held front-line roles in grocery, retail, finance, banking, insurance or professional sales for companies with more than 1,000 employees.

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