Even a global pandemic hasn’t caused the retail industry at large to change its ways when it comes to workers, a majority of whom still feel compelled to work while sick.
Just under 75 percent of more than 1,200 U.S. retail workers polled earlier this year said they go to work while sick, according to research from Quinyx, a company focused on workforce management that also offers related software to retailers.
Retail is one of the biggest employers in the U.S., with more than 4 million people working in the industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet the median hourly wage, and a vast majority of retail workers are paid hourly, is just $12.23 or $25,440 a year, before taxes. The median yearly wage in the U.S. overall is $39,800.
Even during the coronavirus pandemic, which took hold of the U.S. in March, 14 percent of retail workers still felt the need to work while sick, according to the Quinyx report. The main reason for working while feeling ill during the COVID-19 outbreak was needing money for basic household expenses, 48 percent of people polled said. But 30 percent said there was no one to cover their shift, so they had to work for fear of losing their job.
Workers in retail are also facing environments that may not be responding properly to the reality of a pandemic as the industry is eager to get back to selling goods to the public after months of forced closures. Complaints by retail workers to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration specifically related to coronavirus concern are on the rise, although no enforcement action has yet been taken by the agency.
The study also found that 24 percent of people polled, mainly retail workers but also some in logistics and transportation, had actually been laid off between late February and late April, when respondents were polled again. Forty-four percent of this group only earn $11 to $15 an hour and 41 percent have a second job for needed extra income. Five percent actually have three jobs “to make ends meet.”
As for why people working in retail feel the need to not only put their own health at risk, but the health of others who they interact with as a part of their jobs, the reasoning was a relatively straightforward mix of low wages and job insecurity.
Nearly half of people think that even asking to switch a scheduled shift because of illness “could get them fired.” Simply taking a sick day, or several if need be, is also largely out of the question as only 13 percent of people polled said they have any paid sick leave. Even if people feel they could take a day or two off when sick, 48 percent said they simply couldn’t afford to lose pay, the study found.
Nor is this an industry that employs only young people. According to the Labor Bureau, the average age of a retail worker is 38. The Quinyx poll found that retail workers who work while sick are almost evenly distributed among Gen Z, Millennials and Gen X, at roughly 75 percent, while 64 percent of Baby Boomers in retail said they work while sick. Even if people take one sick day in retail, 23 percent feel that taking more than one could get them fired.
This feeling of disposability is common among the retail workforce polled. Thirty-seven percent of retail workers polled said they “believe their employer views them as a disposable, temporary worker,” while 64 percent “are so dissatisfied with their work environment that they have considered quitting their job. But this isn’t because people wouldn’t like a more stable job outlook in retail.
“Across industries, workers don’t want a job, they want a career,” Quinyx said in its report. “Even the majority of workers in industries that are viewed as ‘temporary,’ such as retail or hospitality, plan to stay at a job long-term (in this case one to three years).”
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