Ikea is a haven for affordable home goods that actually look chic enough for you to want to put them in your house. Because of this, we jump on new furniture line releases and willingly — for the most part — spend full Saturdays roaming around the Ikea store. Still, even with all that we love about the retail chain, it's rare for us to stop and think about what it's like to work there.
To find out how Ikea employees really feel about working for this global home goods chain, we talked to three people: Haidee, who worked at an Ikea store in Florida; Justin, who worked returns and home delivery at a U.S. Ikea location; and one current U.K. Ikea employee that wished to remain anonymous. From confused customers and organization restructuring to benefits and furniture assembly, these employees get honest about working at Ikea.
What is/was the best thing about your work experience?
"I worked in Småland where they take care of customer's children. I was forced to work as a team so the other coworkers and I built a great bond. And most of the team leaders, as well, were nice and understanding. If something happened, they would do their best to solve issues that we had. If we were needed elsewhere or needed a break, the managers would jump in for us. If there was a situation with the customer that made us feel uncomfortable, most of the managers would come in." - Haidee
"Being able to work by myself and not have to work in groups if needed. I worked returns/home delivery and was able to do almost anything by myself without having to ask others for help and be very independent with my job." - Justin
"I work with a fantastic team. I'm in my late 50s and went to Ikea with no retail experience. There is no one in the store I wouldn't be happy to sit and have a cuppa with. The ethos is great. Some of the managers are truly inspiring, they will do any task they ask us to do... I work alongside equally passionate staff." - Anonymous Ikea U.K. employee
What is/was the worst thing about your work experience?
"The worst part was, in 2017, Ikea started reorganizing and restructuring. After that, people started quitting and they weren't being replaced, so the workload became a lot heavier. They were expecting us to complete all these tasks, but there weren't enough of us and there wasn't proper training. That's when it started to fall apart for me, I guess. They called it Organization for Growth, O4G." - Haidee
"No set hours, so I have no routine. Rotas are often not available for more than 2 weeks in advance, so it's difficult to plan... The work is physically hard. I am standing my whole shift with my feet on concrete floors in steel toecap shoes for upwards of five hours. You don't get off on time. You are expected to arrive 15 minutes before your shift so you can get your till float, but you don't finish until the time your shift ends. They dock you 15 minutes pay if you clock in even one second late... There are 'favorites' who get to choose when they work and which functions they do... I was given a formal notice to improve my attendance because I had three odd days off sick in my first six months of employment... I have never in my 40+ years of previous employment had any disciplinary issues. I felt that it was incredibly unsupportive and since then, have been really worried about sickness." - Anonymous Ikea U.K. employee
Do you feel you are/were paid fairly? What about benefits?
"In the beginning, I was. When I started, I was happy because I was doing retail, and I was getting paid more than other retail stores for sure. The benefits were great. During that time period, my dad passed, and they were so kinds. They gave me out hours for bereavement, and they paid two weeks. They told me 'Come back whenever you're ready.' They were really nice about it. Then, when O4G happened, things got worse because of the workload and no pay increases… It wasn't worth it for the stress." - Haidee
"No. Absolutely not. I made $11/hr working 40-hour weeks doing more than my managers would do... [The managers] got an unlimited pool of vacation so they could take vacation for as long as they needed. They didn't have to go by the same attendance rules as coworkers and would be able to leave a shift early if 'it wasn't busy'... Benefits were okay. Not the best, but the only thing I liked over my current job was Ikea offered pet insurance." - Justin
"We get £9 GBP per hour, which is above national minimum wage... The pay is okay, but contracts are low hours so I take home between £750/£800 per month, which is not enough to live on. I have no entitlement to benefits. There is a staff dining room with free drinks and the food is subsidized so you could eat for free every day if you choose the healthy option, but there is no provision for special diets... A four-hour shift has no break and a six-hour shift has 20-minutes paid break. Above six hours, no breaks are paid other than the 20 minutes. Again, mean." - Anonymous Ikea U.K. employee
Do/did you get any perks or discounts?
"We had a cafeteria for the staff and that was a good benefit. I think it was only $2 or $3 that we had to pay for a meal. You got your salad, chicken, and mashed potatoes, like a whole meal for only like two or three bucks. When you would do a good job, some managers would treat you to a free meal at the restaurant, where you could get anything. And, we had a 15% discount at the store." - Haidee
"15% off merch. That's it. 10 years at the company makes you a coworker for life so you can use the 15% for the rest of your life even if you leave the company." - Justin
"For Ikea UK/IE's 75th birthday, all staff were given a €75 gift card, then later in the year, a one-off 25% discount code for a single purchase. We get a Christmas present each year and an Easter egg" - Anonymous Ikea U.K. employee
"Yeah, myself and a lot of my friends I worked with. They called it O4G (Organization for Growth). Our store went from 269 employees to about 130 within a couple months. When I left, there were 110 coworkers total, now there's about 100 or so. Everyone has to juggle different jobs, which is what they want. It is fine because there's no reason for two people to be in charge of 'making cardboard boxes' for as-is items, which got absorbed into a team of 15 that makes them as needed." - Justin
There's that cliché that couples tend to fight a lot or even break up at Ikea. Do/did you ever experience that?
"The Ikea I worked in was two floors. The first floor, it was fine, but by the second floor, everyone gets frustrated. Our Ikea was one of the biggest, so a lot of customers would get lost. You would see couples that one of them was done with it and one of them wanted to continue seeing everything. It didn't happen a lot though." - Haidee
"My favorite couple story is when I was still new and had this really massive alpha male slam two cabinet doors onto my station, shouting 'how difficult is it to give me the right doors? I wanted white! These are blue!!!' His wife, a tiny lady, was behind him shaking her head. As he berated me, I slowly peeled the adhesive protective blue plastic film off exposing his hi-gloss white doors. His wife whooped with laughter and gently slapped him across the back of his head... He did apologize, to be fair." - Anonymous Ikea U.K. employee
Do you have any other wild stories?
"I have a gross story. Sometimes I'd have to go around and pick up the yellow bags around the store that people leave. One time, I picked one up, and there was this nasty odor. I opened it and — sorry, I'm sharing this — it was a child's diaper. It's amazing what customers do, man." - Haidee
"People bring items back in dreadful condition. I had a chap return a used toilet cleaning brush complete with toilet content and used tissue stuck to it, but he had his receipt so…" - Anonymous Ikea U.K. employee
People often joke about how difficult Ikea furniture is to assemble. Do/did you ever have to assemble any for the showroom? Do you think the pieces are hard to put together?
"Anything taller than yourself is always going to be hard to put together, like Pax. If there's downtime on the sales floor and a display needs to be made, you can go in the back and build it." - Justin
"The instructions are pictogram to reduce print run wastage. By not having language except on the first few pages, it allows the document to be used in multiple regions. This is both a good and frustrating scenario. I'm all for the Ikea 'be kind to people and the planet' value and am hoping to get involved with the new recycling project starting soon at our store, but some people (sadly, myself included) are pathologically unable to build Ikea furniture. My son, on the other hand, instinctively knows how to use the instruction... Our build team is amazing. They are gods in my eyes — so happy to help customers with queries about building products and in desperate times, have actually helped build items with customers in-store." - Anonymous Ikea U.K. employee
Are/were most of the people you encounter nice?
"Yeah, most of them were nice. In Småland, we had a lot of returning customers, so there were relationships that we built with some of the parents. There was this one customer whose daughter was autistic. She had trouble making friends at school so the mother would bring her daughter to Småland in order for her to interact with other kids, and we saw that girl grow up." - Haidee
"In my department, no. Returns and Home Delivery is the most stressful department in the building because it has to do with thousands of dollars of merch and people want their money back." - Justin
"I love most of our customers!! They become almost friends. Especially the older ones who come in every week for their fish and chips and free cup of tea (available with family cards Monday to Friday). You hear about their families, where they went on holiday, and they introduce you to friends and family when they come in. It needs to be borne in mind that you may be the only person that individual has spoken to that day. I always try to find something to chat about if we are not too busy. Really old customers make your heart glad. We have a couple where he is 98 and his wife is 94. He drives to store, they eat in our restaurant, and have a look at the room sets. Small children are good for comedy, especially when they are carrying soft toys bigger than they are. I get to meet lovely people day in and day out, and I hope that their Ikea experience is improved for having met me." - Anonymous Ikea U.K. employee
How do/did you deal with angry customers?
"I cried. In the beginning, I would tell my manager to come in for me because I'm very sensitive. I'd get red and I'd automatically cry. Then, I would tell myself 'Okay, it's not worth it to argue with them,' so I would just say sorry. We would get a lot of angry customers because our inventory was always off, and I'd feel bad for them, so I'd say sorry. But there were situations when we had to call security. At Småland, for safety purposes, whoever drops off a child has to sign a paper and that signature has to match the signature used when you check out. So, one time, a mom dropped off the kids, but the dad wanted to pick them up. We told him, 'No, sir. I'm sorry. Their mom has to come back,' and he got really upset. He was screaming, 'Those are my children,' and he kicked the door, so we had to call security." - Haidee
"We don't. The minute someone raises their voice or gets anywhere near being rude or snarky, we refuse service and ignore them and call for security to remove them from the building. That is how my store was. We had zero tolerance for belligerent and rude customers." - Justin
Do you have a favorite Ikea product?
"Because I work with kids — now, I volunteer with kids — I get the toys from the Ikea children's department. The kitchen set, for example, I like that item the kids." - Haidee
"I have a Hemnes bed and Hövåg mattress combination that is my first-ever new bed (I've always had to buy secondhand as I've never had enough for new). I could happily live in my bed, snuggled under my new feather duvet and cotton sheet. I also adore the Kallax multipurpose storage. It's so versatile and can have doors, shelves, drawers, or just Dröna boxes in it." - Anonymous Ikea U.K. employee
"I did have a favorite food there, but they took it out. It was chicken stuffed with ham and cheese. I know everyone loves the meatballs, but I don't like the meatballs. I think my mom makes better meatballs. The fish is pretty good sometimes." - Haidee
What's something you wish people knew about working at Ikea?
"A lot of times, Ikea promotes that it's 'the best place to work,' and I think that is true for some stores. There was a social media app — I can't remember the name — where different Ikeas could post, and after O4G happened, there were some locations that would post positive messages, but others would be like, 'Hey, are we the only store that's struggling right now?' People were being really honest. At my store, it turned really ugly because people had to work weekends all the time. You were never able to get a weekend off because they needed you because we were short-staffed, and without a staff, your department can't function. For some Ikeas, it was a great place to work, but at my location, a lot of people left because they weren't happy with the work environment and the work morale. There were people there that had worked at my store since day one because it's not that old of a location, and they stayed obviously because of the pay and the benefits, but they wish it was back to how it used to be. If O4G never happened, I think it would be a better Ikea." - Haidee
"I wish customers realized that I have an undergraduate degree in applied human biochemistry and a master's degree in science communication. I am not working at Ikea because I am incapable of working elsewhere, although, at my age, graduate employment is almost impossible to find. Ikea never even asked for my date of birth until I signed my contract. They are truly inclusive and have fantastic diversity. I just wish they were more organized... I've repeatedly asked for consecutive days off and longer shifts over fewer days, but it falls on deaf ears. To be perfectly honest, I love my coworker team and most customers and certainly don't dread going to work, but I am afraid that one whilst pushing a heavily laden trolly, I will drop down dead. We work exceedingly hard both physically and mentally... I really want to help shoppers, and I hope that our customers can feel that when they meet me. I just wish I felt more valued by management and leadership treated every single staff member equitably." - Anonymous Ikea U.K. employee
Conversations have been edited for length and clarity.
Update, May 21, 2019: Ikea Retail U.S. provided Refinery29 with the following statement regarding its Organization for Growth plan, which was mentioned several times by one of the former employees interviewed for this piece: "In 2016, Ikea Retail U.S. initiated a process to change the way we were organized and the way we work together throughout our organization. Our objective was to empower our co-workers to meet our customers' expectations in today's multichannel environment, and strengthen our position in the fast changing US retail environment. Hundreds of co-workers from throughout Ikea U.S. contributed to the process of creating the new organization's design, including co-workers from our stores.
We worked with our co-workers to ensure they were informed and engaged throughout the year-long process with multiple opportunities to provide input. We offered the opportunity for every co-worker to have a role in the new organization. The new organization and ways of working were implemented in 2017 with a mind-set of continuous improvement over time. As the retail environment is changing rapidly, we must have more flexibility and agility, as we are adjusting and evolving to enhance both the customer and co-worker experience. We are always looking to improve the experience of our 17,000 co-workers in the U.S., and we will continue to engage in open and honest dialogue with our co-workers, as their input is valuable, while we continue to adapt and evolve.
The Ingka Group transformation that was announced globally in November 2018 is separate from the organizational changes that were implemented in the U.S. in 2017. "