(WSYM) — New numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor show retail workers are leaving their jobs at record rates.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, retail jobs were hard. In 2017, the typical pay for full-time employees was $33,000 a year, and most of the jobs were not full-time. Plus, most come with unpredictable schedules.
When the pandemic hit, those jobs before more dangerous since many were considered essential, and now, people are quitting for less-stressful, higher-paying jobs.
"You really have to be a people person. You really have to tolerate, you know, what customers throw out," Nesha Smith, who left her retail job after 17 years, said.
Name almost any major chain and Smith has worked there. In terms of stress, she said the pandemic compounded the problem.
"Then it came down to the mask, you have to wear the mask, you have to enforce it. People get really upset about that. So I was like, you know what? I can't do this anymore. It's not getting me anywhere, Smith said. "I work 12, 14 hours overtime. I look at my paycheck. I don't see it. It was like, you know what? I can't do it."
The mother of three left her job and went into the medical field – from patient transport to phlebotomy, to lab pathology.
She's not alone. According to the Labor Department, a record number of people left retail in the past year.
649,000 retail employees quit in April. That's the retail sector's largest mass exodus in a single month in more than two decades.
"I don't think there's any question that COVID has caused us to reset and to rethink and that's the keyword, rethink employment, what it means to us, what it should be for us and how do we approach it?" Dave Strubler, a professor of organization leadership and HR development at Oakland University, said.
In addition to not enough pay, he said people quit over a lack of meaning, toxic work environment, contentious, and unsafe conditions.
"If you want people to love the work environment, it's got to be a positive environment. It has to be interdependent, in people are connecting with each other, learning and growing with and from each other, and the second thing is job design," Strubler said.
He said a sense of meaning and purpose affects job longevity. Something Smith said she found working with people in a more fulfulling way.
"I actually enjoy the medical field way better. I'm glad I made that decision to go that route," Smith said.
Experts say employees can improve union benefits, schedules and pay.