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Retailers   //   December 27, 2021  ■  5 min read

‘Dreary, unfulfilling place to work’: Three workers on why they left their retail and food service jobs this year

Workers report safety concerns, low wages and constant changes to their work schedule as reasons they left their jobs this year.

Buoyed by the increased bargaining power of near-record job openings, workers are embracing a new labor movement. Some retail workers are unionizing for the first time, while others and striking to push for better wages. Indeed, Reddit’s r/antiwork subreddit, grew 279% from 2020 to 2021 year-to-date to over a million members, who are sharing their quitting stories and calling out company’s union-busting tactics. In turn, frontline, low-wage workers are quitting their roles at record rates, in what many are calling the Great Resignation.

Modern Retail spoke to three former workers at Walgreens, McDonald’s and Best Buy, some on the condition of anonymity. None of the aforementioned companies returned Modern Retail’s request for comment. These employees said that various frustrations including constant job changes, concerns over retail theft and lack of upward job prospects ultimately led them to quit. Their answers have been edited for clarity and length.

“Awful managers combined with awful pay”

“I had a manager who screamed at people in the middle of the restaurant. He yelled at me and then pointed me out in front of everybody in the kitchen. This was all because I made a mistake [setting the wrong cook timer on fried chicken] and tried to correct it without asking him. He said ‘who here gets paid to make decisions?’

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In short, I left as there were awful managers — good managers quit to go to places that paid better — combined with awful pay and overworking due to short-staffing. I’ll tell you that if I hear the phrase “If you’ve got time to lean, you have time to clean” again, I might lose it. There were days when we weren’t busy or we were in a lapse between rushes where I cleaned the same places upwards of three or four times. They weren’t dirty anymore, but I couldn’t look like I wasn’t busy, even if I was doing my job in a timely manner. I was literally punished for getting things done promptly.”

– A former McDonalds employee in Kentucky who quit in June

“I had no room for growth”

“When everything initially shut down, Best Buy remained open, using a curbside model for shopping and pick-up. And when we opened back up, they kept our scheduling light. And then the company realized that we were able to make stores run with a skeleton crew, and decided that was the new business model. Within GeekSquad, we referred to it as Order 66. Across the company, a huge swathe of employees were let go. We also went under a hiring freeze, so there was no new help to come. In GeekSquad, I was the only full-time Advanced Repair Agent (ARA), with only one part-time ARA who could only work weekends. There was always more work than we could handle, and we were constantly getting more.

I think the exact moment that I started looking for a new job in earnest came from our General Manager. We weren’t allowed to have any drinks or food in the back of precinct because there were client devices back there… but we could keep them out front. One of the Counter Agents had gotten coffee from a gas station on their way into work, and had their cup sitting underneath the counter, where it was supposed to be. Our GM had a problem with it and this particular day she happened to see it. She went down behind the counter — quite deliberately, mind you — picked up the cup, and poured it out onto the counter where we had paperwork, our laptops, and a client device.

So, I started putting in my applications whenever I saw an opportunity for something in the IT industry that would be an upgrade to my position, and eventually I found one with a local college. I had no room for growth at GeekSquad, and I wasn’t about to put up with management, or any further changes they wanted to make to company culture… Since leaving GeekSquad, my life has improved dramatically. My mental health is better, and my career prospects are looking really well.”

– A former Best Buy Advanced Repair Agent in Iowa who quit in August

“Large scale theft came to us”

“Walgreens continued to implement changes [due to Covid-19]: cutting labor budget hours, putting more and more emphasis on offering more services with less staff, Fed-Ex pick-up and drop-off, curbside pick-up, ever-expanding photo options that took time to assemble and package. The ‘do more with less attitude’ went from being a challenge to being overwhelming. In addition, our new hires started to be young people with no work experience. With no time or effort to train them properly, the team just started to fall apart.

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Over the summer large-scale theft came to us. You know, load up a cart and run out the door type of thing. Then they started to walk out. Then they started making a point of making sure they passed you. They would no longer jump the counter to steal cartons of cigarettes when no one was up there, they would just stroll around it, and brush you aside… Walgreens would not provide security, and my store manager was thoroughly unconcerned and pretty much wrote us off as overreacting. For me, the final straw came when I was alone up front at 2AM while the cashier was on break. Two men came in, brushed past me and proceeded to steal the register drawers… I locked the store, called the police, and kept the store closed until daylight. The kicker was that this was the fourth time that these men had done this over the course of the year.

I went to the hospital thinking I was having a heart attack: nope, panic attacks. I ended up at a behavioral health clinic and took a leave, then decided — given the absolute mess Walgreens has become — to not return. With meds and therapy, I am so much better. But I can’t go back there. Safety aside — I can work days — it’s just a dreary, unfulfilling place to work. It’s crazy how with some distance I can see how much the atmosphere at my store had affected my whole life. It colored my home life gray too.”

– Darcel Knowles, a former shift lead at Walgreens in Florissant, MO who quit in October