Retail working conditions is the subject of a recent study.


As thousands of workers take on seasonal work at major retailers, scholars from the University of Missouri Department of Textile and Apparel Management published a research report that cites “corporate hypocrisy” for the negative perception of the industry’s working conditions.

The scholars note that with over 15 million employees and one million stores, the U.S. retail industry is the largest employer in the U.S. and their research “has shown the public has negative perceptions of the retail industry’s employment working conditions” and have concluded that “corporate hypocrisy is an important factor in negative perceptions among employees toward retail companies.”

The university noted that corporate hypocrisy “occurs when a corporation promotes certain values and benefits publicly, but is perceived by employees as ignoring those values internally.”

The researcher of the report is Saheli Goswami, who is a doctoral student in the university’s College of Human Environmental Sciences. For the study, Goswami worked with Jung Ha-Brookshire, an associate professor of textile and apparel management and associate dean for research at the college, and conducted interviews with retail industry employees — at “various levels of employment.” The research showed that retail workers can experience corporate hypocrisy directly from managers as well as from the retailer’s corporate offices.

Goswami urges retailers to prevent corporate hypocrisy to “maintain good employee relations as employees work directly with customers.” Goswami describes sales associates as the public face of a retail company. And given the current environment, it is essential for them to have a positive attitude.

Goswami said retail workers “interact with customers on a daily basis and have the ability to leave positive or negative impressions upon those customers. With the rise of online shopping, it is more important than ever for these employees to maintain positive customer service in bricks-and-mortar retail stores. However, many employees will not be motivated to make good impressions if they believe the company they work for is hypocritical in the ways it treats them.”

In regard to corporate hypocrisy from managers, they “often would say one thing about store maintenance or policies, yet perform those actions differently themselves.”

“Employees also reported distrust and feelings of being replaceable partly due to the hypocritical behaviors of store managers,” the scholars noted. “Hypocrisy from corporate offices also appeared to be a problem due to inconsistent policies, differences in evaluation standards and a lack of follow-through on promised benefits such as professional development opportunities.”

“These negative employee relations through perceived corporate hypocrisy are hurting the retail industry,”

As a result, Goswami said this dynamic is “hurting” the industry. “Many good employees get frustrated by these experiences and sometimes will leave the industry altogether, resulting in companies having to hire inexperienced replacements,” Goswami explained. “Further, many employees will pass on these negative experiences through interactions with customers and through negative reviews, further hurting retail sales and reputations. It is important for these companies to provide good manager training to prevent manager hypocrisy, as well as to remain consistent with employee policies across the board.”

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