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New Study Asks Retail, Hotel and F&B Employees Why They Aren’t Returning to Work

Employees want to feel safe and comfortable at work, but employers are falling short on delivering on these expectations.
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While no industry is exempt from the labor shortage, retailers, and quick-service restaurants (QSR) are seeing staff turnover and staffing shortages more than anywhere else. The leisure and hospitality sector, which includes food and beverage (F&B) and hotel workers, is nowhere near pre-pandemic staffing levels. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 16.9 million leisure and hospitality jobs in February 2020, compared to the 13.5 million reported in September 2021—a shortage of 3.4 million workers.

From wage increases and referral bonuses to offering childcare programs onsite, retailers and restaurants are employing creative tactics to lure new talent. But a new study from Big Red Rooster, a JLL company, finds that the level of comfort in store locations may be underestimated in employee retention and attraction.

Big Red Rooster previously revealed that employees have the most impact on the consumer’s brand experience, more than any other experience attribute. The multi-dimensional design firm’s latest study finds that during a labor shortage, with less employees to be found, the impact of negative workplace environment perceptions could translate into devastating impacts on service and consumer brand perception. As a result, the future design of stores must be more holistic and factor in the experiential needs of employees.

“Knowing that employees have the greatest impact on brand experience and that they're in short supply, we aimed to uncover the root of why they aren't returning to the workplace,” said Emily Albright Miller, SVP Strategy, Big Red Rooster. “Overwhelmingly, we've heard there is a disconnect between employer and employee. Customers emphasize the importance employees have on their personal experience, but employees themselves are not feeling valued by the brands that employ them. And that lack of employee recognition has led to employees feeling like they aren't appropriately treated or respected, not only as workers but as human beings.”

When employees were asked to rank the most important elements of their job, a store location that feels safe and comfortable ranked within the top three, underscoring the importance of meeting the physiological needs of employees. Pay and schedule flexibility ranked first and second respectively. When asked to define what they meant by "safe" and "comfortable," respondents connected feelings of safety to their physical wellbeing, and comfort as an emotional factor.

“Respect, happiness, and even perks are all important, but if the employee doesn't feel safe, they're ultimately meaningless,” said Albright Miller. “When looking at employee retention, businesses must critically ask themselves, ‘Are we creating environments that are comfortable for our customers while simultaneously ignoring the identical needs of our employees?’”

When asked what would improve their workplace culture and overall experience beyond the table stakes of wages and benefits, many responses reflected the idea of comfort and feeling free to relax during break times as a chance to decompress. Survey respondents cited clean, inviting breakrooms stocked with snacks and phone chargers as simple ways to improve their work experience, emphasizing employee desire for a workplace environment that meets both physical and emotional needs.

“As we look at the remainder of 2021 and into a new year, companies should consider shifting more budgets toward employee-focused solutions rather than traditional advertising and marketing channels,” said Albright Miller. “Employees are feeling like they aren’t being heard when it comes to considering the branded experience—making it critical for companies to start solving for employees as well as consumers to drive growth in this next evolution of experience design.”

About the study

Big Red Rooster kicked off 2021 with a thought leadership series meant to understand evolved consumer behaviors and expectations, especially as they relate to the role of real estate in a brand’s marketing mix. The Q4 study was conducted in partnership with ENGINE Insights and included a four-day Digital Hive with 361 U.S. adults 18 years of age and older.

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