Real Talk: Top 5 Struggles of Working Retail During The Holidays

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” …right?


“Retail Holiday Horror” by BagoGames, Flickr
“Retail Holiday Horror” by BagoGames, Flickr

Hot chocolate, holiday cheer and time with family: it’s the holiday season we all hope for. Unfortunately, for the millions of people working in retail every year, this dream of relaxation and time with loved ones can feel just like that: a dream.

It’s become the holiday experience that most workers expect: poor treatment, long hours and low pay.

Every year, retail workers bear the brunt of the busy holiday season — temporary “seasonal” hours, rude customers, dangerous working conditions and more. Most major retail companies require employees to have open availability and work the holidays, sometimes with last minute schedule changes or without a holiday bonus. It’s become the holiday experience that most workers expect: poor treatment, long hours and low pay. With all of the seasonal joy, these are the stories that are often untold. Retail workers help make the holiday great for so many people, yet are left feeling invisible, exhausted and angry.

From late November to early December, we asked workers about their top five issues around working the holidays:

78% of retail workers said poor treatment and harassment from customers

61% of workers cited low pay for such hard work.

49% struggled with long hours or too short of a shift.

47% said inconsistent weekly scheduling and changes.

43% of retail workers said poor treatment from management.

*Stats will be updated periodically with new results. Take the retail worker survey here.*

For low-wage workers in retail, the holiday season presents many challenges. In addition to the sporadic and inconsistent scheduling, many workers mentioned feeling cheated out of holiday pay this year.

“We were due for a $200 bonus [over thanksgiving] and a lot of us were asked to punch in early, so we did. When we got our “bonus” it was for $35! They claimed we “violated policy” by clocking in early… The bosses told us to punch in and still they did not give us the extra money [and] they did not say they were responsible. [We] did not get breaks as well.”

- Anonymous, Walmart

If you’ve ever worked in retail, you know exactly what they’re talking about and you know that these experiences aren’t anomalies. Concerns around worker treatment and pay, especially during the holidays, has been making national waves.


You can also do an easy scan on social media to see how retail workers talk about their experiences during the holidays.


Although there are useful articles and tips on how to survive the holidays as a retail worker (and we hope they work for you!), we know that the biggest improvements come when retail workers feel dignified on the job and feel empowered to speak up for changes.

How to support?

Here are some worker-led campaigns you can join this holiday season:

  1. Starbucks: Let us have our holidays

Nothing changes overnight. You can join these retail worker petitions now so they don’t have to work another Thanksgiving Day:

  1. Retail worker campaigns around Thanksgiving.

If there’s something you would like to change in your workplace, you can start your own effort on here! is a global platform to advance change in the workplace. Our platform makes it easy for individuals or groups of employees to launch, join, and win campaigns to improve their jobs and workplaces. You can start your own campaign for changes you want to see in your workplace here at, or contact us at [email protected] if you would like to discuss a workplace issue with our team.