The Big Quit, discontinuity has its price

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In a time characterized by structural changes moving at ever-faster speeds, retail must find the ability of preventing rather than just responding to it.

The Big Quit is a phenomenon that spans industries and markets on a worldwide scale. The surge in voluntary job abandonment must be carefully assessed in terms of its real impact and underlining causes, but it should not be seen as a simple headache that can be resolved with a couple of pills. In a time characterized by structural changes moving at ever-faster speeds, retail must find the ability of preventing rather than just responding to it. At stake are the relationship with customers, internal workings and processes, and the competitiveness of the brand.

The Big Quit, or Great Resignation phenomenon, i.e. the voluntary cessation of work, is gaining the attention of the global market.

Key numbers

In the United States, the quit rate reached the new record high of 3% in September 2021 (Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Table 4). In all, more than 20 million workers left their jobs from June to October of 2021. In retail, the Big Quit ‘boasts’ the highest numbers and quit rates on record during the same period (3.5 million workers, 4.2% of the total).

In Italy, on 7 December, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies made public the document regarding labour relations in Q3 of 2021. On page 10, it states: “Terminations requested by the worker, representing 19.4% of the total, amounted to 569 thousand, of which 524 thousand (17.9% of the total) consisted of resignations, with an upward trend of 26.7%, after the high increase in Q2 of 2021 (+85.45%)”. In the second quarter to which the document refers, for the first time in years the rate of voluntary termination of employment exceeded 2% of the total employed.

Before and after the pandemic

In a climate of great uncertainty and more often than in the past, workers have probably resigned only when faced with the prospect of new job opportunities, and at a glance it seems that the wave of resignations in the labour market is proportional to the increase in job vacancies.

Any definitive judgment, however, is premature, and different causes could be contributing to the Big Quit: low pay, poor working conditions, lack of scheduling flexibility. For those workers less tied to direct operations, the discussion on smart working (actually, very often simply remote working) is as lively as ever and leads, almost automatically, to an evaluation of the past rather than looking to the future The Smart Working Observatory of the Milan Polytechnic estimates that, in Italy, 14% of those who can work remotely prefer a return to the traditional working model previous to the pandemic. Conversely, 53% would like a hybrid model, while 33% has had enough of the classic working methods.

It can be assumed, however, that among the main reasons for the indecision to return to the workplace there are fears of contagion to oneself or others. There are, unfortunately, extreme cases of severe conflicts between customers who refuse vaccination and the obligation to wear face masks and employees who have to endure the relationship, in some cases to the point of verbal and/or physical violence. The problems, or opportunities, arising from the new personal and family arrangements induced by the coronavirus are a factor of far from negligible importance. Preliminary, therefore, to the possibility or need for radical choices, whether provisional or definitive.

The Big Quit and the customer experience

It is a fact, however, that this phenomenon and the turnover turmoil can affect the regularity of workflows and organization of resources in many companies, which will necessarily impose changes. Indeed, in retail in particular, it should not be underestimated the impact on end customers and the customer experience, but not only.

When organizations are understaffed and have high employee turnover rates, lack of or a weak knowledge transfer can lead to discontinuity and inconsistency in the sale of products and services. This whether it is due to shortages at the counter, checkout point or delivery, or absence of testing and quality standards and training. Low staffing levels lead to stressful shifts, longer wait times and lack of service. The consequences of the Big Quit are evident in the pressure it puts on employees, but it also affects the shopping experience. For those waiting in line, for example, they either suffer waits and delays in the delivery of their order or do not find the timely availability of staff or, in any case, experience services limitations.


For retailers, the question to ask is relatively simple: How effectively have the indications on the health emergency been implemented in the last eighteen months? Not only in the ability to respond to the consumer, but in managing the organization and in particular the workforce?

Customer orientation is strategic for any retailer, without forgetting that the relationship with the customer passes through the company’s people. Whether they work on setting up the shelves or the shop window, at the service point or hidden behind the smartphone screen, their role is essential, all the more so in a contingency situation. The best customer experience is only possible with a better worker experience, at any rank in the organization. This includes scheduling, remuneration, time and attendance, absence management, personalized learning plans, career paths, and new skill building (all the timelier in an era of structural changes such as this).

The effects of the Big Quit can be felt not only in the short- but also in the medium and long term, lowering the overall value of the brand or store and, consequently, the interest and loyalty of the buyer and the degree of appeal on the labour market. Dealing with this phenomenon is another important chapter of innovation.

(edited by Michele Caprini, Retex Group)

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