Retailers Lend a Hand in Work-Life Balance
By SHAMONTIEL VAUGHN | Staff Writer
Levi’s is trying to lighten the load off of family members with significant personal responsibilities, specifically those with new children, bereavement needs and caregiving obligations. According to the Human Resource Executive, employees can now receive up to eight weeks of paid time off to care for sick loved ones—an ill spouse, domestic partner, (step)parent or (step)child up to 18 years of age. This 2020 move is one step further up in the family-friendly direction Levi’s was already going in, with its eight-week maternity and paternity leave. But they aren’t the only retailers who are making moves for employees of all ages to look out for their family.
A look at today’s retail employee
TV sitcoms could lead people to believe that the average retail employee is a high schooler or college student looking for side money. But in the real world, the average age for a retail employee is 38, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with the two highest employee age ranges between 25 to 34 and 35 to 44. BLS also confirms that employees who are 65 years of age and older outnumber those who are 16 to 19. So in real life, when retail employees start a job, companies are aware that the benefits package should look a little different. A few vacation days and sick days just isn’t enough for the average retail employee’s needs.
For retail employees who are caregivers, extended family leave options will be very significant. (According to Caregiver.org, women are still more likely to be caregivers at 65 percent, with an average age of 69. On the other end, younger caregiving recipients tend to be male, with 45 percent between an age range of 18 to 45.)
First-time mothers are also making noticeable age transitions. For non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black and Hispanic women, all three groups are becoming first-time mothers later in life. From 2007 to 2017, the average first-time pregnancy age is 29 (white) and 25 (black and Hispanic) in large metro counties, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The youngest age group for first-time pregnancies is 22 for non-Hispanic black women in rural counties. So when retail employees are applying for employment or looking for jobs for the long-term, maternity and paternity leave matters quite a bit.
Brick-and-mortar store benefits versus the gig economy
The flexibility of the gig economy worker has helped people work whenever they choose. This means they’re not confined by strict scheduling and a mandatory need to be at a specified store location. For example, Uber, Lyft and Via drivers can come and go as they please, and are needed at all hours of the day. Meanwhile Instacart, GrubHub and Amazon Flex drivers tend to hang it up by evening hours (give or take 24-hour retailers). Gig workers can also have more control over their earnings and hours than the traditional retail worker.
However, when it comes to benefits, it’s a mixed bag for new parents and caregivers. Online retailers such as Amazon do offer fully paid maternity and paternity leave options following birth and/or the adoption of a child. But these parental options are only eligible after one year of continuous service by the date of the child’s birth or adoptee’s placement. Walmart and Levi’s also require a one-year minimum. And Levi’s takes it one step further by allowing employees the option to earn funds by volunteering for a cause that matters to them. Sometimes they’ll even match the contributions.
Additionally, Target extended its paid family leave and backup care benefits so part-time and hourly employees have the opportunity to use them. Human Resource Executive confirms that Intel increased paid-leave policies for new parents from eight weeks to 12 week, plus eight weeks of paid leave for seriously ill family members. And while Intel also offers two weeks for bereavement leave, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg now offers 20 days of time off for employees to mourn an immediate family member’s death and 10 days for an extended family member.
In the gig economy, if you don’t work for any reason, you just don’t get paid. And it really doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked for past clients. Payment is on a day-to-day basis and often an hour-to-hour timeframe.
Will extended benefits keep employees around longer?
With 57 million people in the gig economy, these benefits may seem like they’re too little too late. But judging from Forbes, the gig world hasn’t taken over regular full-time or part-time jobs, including in retail. Finding gig work is much easier to do than finding full-time or part-time, permanent employment. But finding a livable rate on a continuous basis is another story entirely. This is why gig employees tend to treat their side retail jobs (or other industries) as second jobs instead of solely relying on it.
However, retailers may want to take note of two things that traditional benefits don’t provide that the gig economy does: happiness and flexibility. Around 60 percent of independent gig workers (i.e. one’s own boss) strongly agreed that they had flexibility, while 38 percent of contingent gig workers (freelancers hired by a company) agreed. There was no denying that regular employees have the edge over the gig employee though, not just in traditional benefit payments but also in being paid on time. Also, full-time regular employees strongly agreed that they were paid on time (82 percent) versus 70 percent of gig workers.
So, as long as regular employers continue to provide ways to appeal to workers who need more flexibility, increase empathy to help them gain a family-work life balance, and keep releasing reliable payment, the retail industry is going in the right direction for maintaining happier employees