Retail workers weigh in on why they plan to quit before the busy holiday shopping season, as the Great Resignation continues to shake the industry

A sign reads 'We all quit' at a Burger King in Nebraska
  • Following record resignation rates in September, retail employees are continuing to put in their two weeks ahead of the holidays.
  • Workers told Insider they’re leaving due to low pay, poor working conditions, lack of scheduling flexibility, and pandemic burnout. 
  • “Many of my friends are just tired of it, they don’t want to deal with the chaos,” one employee said of quitting before the holidays.

As the Great Resignation roils the retail industry, some employees are strategically looking to call it quits ahead of the busy holiday shopping season. 

Retail workers who have recently left their jobs, or are otherwise seriously considering it, told Insider they are opting to quit for a variety of reasons, including what they describe as low pay, poor working conditions, lack of scheduling flexibility, and coronavirus pandemic-driven burnout. The departures come after a record number of more than 685,000 retail employees quit in September, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Adding to the inherent stressors for employees navigating a flood of shoppers during the hectic holiday season, many Americans are still refusing to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and eschewing mask mandates, leaving frontline retail workers exposed to the contagious Delta variant. 

“Many of my friends are just tired of it, this is the first holiday after COVID lockdowns and with anti-vax and anti-mask customers wanting to shop during the holidays, they don’t want to deal with the chaos,” a Midwestern warehouse employee told Insider.

The employee, like the others who spoke to Insider for this story, did so on the condition of anonymity citing fear of retribution from current employers or risk to future opportunities. Their identities, as well as their work statuses, have been confirmed. 

The pre-holiday resignations also come amid a period of unrest that has prompted a wave of protests at companies ranging from John Deere to Kellogg’s during “Striketober” and that have continued into November, including a forthcoming Black Friday strike planned among Amazon workers in more than 20 countries.

“The pandemic has exposed how Amazon places profits ahead of workers, society, and our planet,” Make Amazon Pay wrote in a list of demands shared on its website. “Amazon takes too much and gives back too little. It is time to Make Amazon Pay.” 

‘I would rather place my efforts elsewhere’

For one California-based worker, her recent departure from a gig as a mall concierge marks the second time in the past year that she’s left a retail job ahead of the holidays, after she first left her role as a sales lead at Ann Taylor Loft in November 2020. 

While she told Insider the mall concierge job had been an improvement — the primary reason she’s leaving has to do with a lengthy commute caused by a recent move — she experienced similar struggles to her time at Ann Taylor, including low pay and scheduling difficulties. California’s minimum wage is $US14 ($AU19) per hour for employers with 26 or more employees.

“My manager’s pretty politically aware of everything going and she agreed that they’re not paying enough, but it’s really not in her control,” she told Insider. “There’s really not anything she can do about it, but she understands that it’s difficult to find people with the very small amount that they’re paying.”

Rigidity around holiday scheduling  — including the common retail industry practice of enforcing “black out periods” where staffers are prohibited from taking time off during the holiday shopping season — has also prompted many already fed-up workers to resign. 

Among them is a sales associate at a Vans store in Seattle, who told Insider she recently put in her two weeks notice after butting heads with management when she asked to take time off in January to visit her long-distance boyfriend, despite her request coming after the store’s designated December black out period.

The employee said the incident piled on to her existing frustration and burnout, stemming from a recent period of over-scheduling. Though she was hired as a part-time employee for up to 25 hours a week, she said lately she has been asked to work upwards of 45 hours a week.

“If [management] cannot recognize how hard we are working for a store that is severely understaffed, then I would rather place my efforts elsewhere,” she told Insider.

Representatives for Ann Taylor and Vans did not immediately respond to Insider’s request to comment. 

John Deere workers on strike in Davenport, Iowa.
John Deere workers on strike on October 15, 2021 in Davenport, Iowa. Scott Olson/Getty Images

And while companies are hoping to retain workers and attract new talent using tactics like signing bonuses or increased salaries, some workers said its simply not enough. 

According to recent report fron Appcast, a programmatic job advertising software company, the only sector experiencing a boost in applications tied to offer signing bonuses is warehousing and logistics. “The issue may be that when job ads mentioned signing bonus, it was likely to be the only benefit included in the ads,” Appcast wrote.

The Midwestern warehouse worker told Insider that though he plans to stay in his job through the end of December to collect higher holiday pay, his aim is to quit before the start of the new year. 

“I’m going to wait till I get holiday pay, but I’m definitely quitting before New Years,” he said. “Nobody likes to work during the winter time, and I won’t risk myself like last year just trying to get to work on snowy days. I’m in Illinois, so when it snows some country roads are the last ones to get plowed.”

Ultimately, the former mall concierge employee said that she hopes the mass departure of retail workers will make a statement that has a lasting impact for improving the working conditions of retail workers. 

“I just really hope something comes of this,” she said. ” We’ve never had more opportunity to change working culture, and I really hope that we don’t waste it.”