Is retail really the worst sector to work in?

Every sector has its drawbacks, but a recent study by Glass Door revealed that four out of the 10 companies voted as the worst places to work in the UK by employees were retailers. This compares to just one in the top 10.


“It’s an exhausting industry where I was talked down to, insulted, belittled, and treated incredibly badly by both staff and customers, for minimum wage.”

This is a sentence no employer wants to hear, but unfortunately the notion that retail is an unpleasant place to work is somethings that comes up time and again.

Of course every sector has its drawbacks, but a recent study by Glass Door revealed that four out of the 10 companies voted as the worst places to work in the UK by employees were retailers. This compares to just one in the top 10.

With high-profile scandals like the BHS pensions deficit and Sports Direct, where working practices were described as “Victorian”, retail has had a hard time shaking off this reputation.

However, in a recent survey conducted by Toluna for the Retail Gazette, retail employees across the sector painted a far more positive picture.

Sixty-five per cent of those surveyed said they thought retail compared positively to other sectors they had worked in.

Of the respondents who thought retail compared positively, the most common benefit was the social aspect of the role:

“I love the interaction with customers and being able to help people.”

“I love working with customers and retail is my favourite place to be.”

“It compared positively because I enjoy working with the public and feel it‘s a rewarding job.”

Furthermore, 58 per cent of respondents said retail didn‘t deserve its bad reputation.

Of course, there are still a significant number of respondents who believe retail deserves this reputation.

Interestingly one of the biggest pulls of the sector is also one of its biggest drawbacks: dealing with customers seemed to be a significant negative factor for many employees.

“Horrible customers.”

“Dealing with the public is tricky. Someone having a bad day can ruin yours completely.”

“Customers are rude to you when you are a shop assistant. Other sectors I have worked in have been much more pleasant and the clientele much nicer to serve.”

Customer service is at the heart of retail, and for those employees who find this to be a drawback, there is little the sector can do to alleviate their woes.

Yet, the biggest concern for employees was wages, a factor retailers can control.

Everybody wants more money, but respondents repeatedly mention feeling overworked for the amount of pay they received in comparison to other industries.

“I disliked the hard work for low pay.”

“Pay is almost exclusively minimum wage and at my job in a large off-license franchise. I started as basic retail assistant on minimum wage, was later promoted to store manager involving responsibility for banking and the safe, CCTV, staff wages, hiring and health and safety, personal license holder – extra pay for all this? Minimum wage plus 35p per hour. Laughable! Economy couldn’t run without store staff, etc, but paid a pittance with no breaks, no rights and lone working at night.”

“I enjoyed my time even though the pay wasn’t great.”

Retail is also synonymous with high staff turnover, and Retail Gazette’s  survey figures suggest that a majority of employees have been there for under three years.

Forty-seven per cent of respondents have worked in retail for one to three years, double the amount who had have been employed for four to six years.

Despite this, more than double the amount of employees still working in retail plan to stay compared to those who plan to leave.

Of those that have left, over three times as many plan to stay out of retail compared to those planning on returning.

Many of those who have left for good were retired, but a similar number said pay was an issue in returning.

Of those who want to return, flexibility was the key pull factor:

“It is fairly easy to get back into and has some very good benefits, staff discount being a big one, and the different hours that are available.”

“I am currently in university to get a bachelors degree. I think I will go back while finding another job related to my degree as a source of income.”

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