90% of retail colleagues feel vulnerable at work

Article by Olivia Robinson | 10th August 2020

When we shop now, we want different things. Browsing and multiple weekly shops are a thing of the past. The shopper of 2020 wants a quick and efficient experience. Preferably where they don’t compromise social distancing or spend too long waiting to pay.

UK retailers have been at the frontline during a period of unprecedented demand. Over the past few months, colleagues have faced challenging customers, extreme health and safety stressors and the pressure of food shortages and panic-buying. Many employers have had to hire large temporary teams, meaning colleagues had to quickly train inexperienced colleagues whilst coping with changing government regulations around physical contact. 

Added together, these issues make for a challenging work environment. At VoCoVo, we kept hearing from our customers how stressful this time was, so we did some research to find out more about how colleagues felt. The results were surprising.

Downloaded our full report here

Retail colleagues are overwhelmingly happy at work

Three quarters of the people we spoke to were pleased with their current role, with only 4% being unhappy at work. 

While colleagues feel surprisingly content in many ways, customer service is being tested in current circumstances. 39% of our respondents were worried customer service wasn’t improving, and almost a third were worried about protecting colleagues from abuse. 

Despite a fraught dynamic between colleagues and customers, colleagues were still overwhelmingly happy at work. However, we noticed a disturbing trend about how many colleagues felt vulnerable.

90% of retail colleagues feel vulnerable at work

This is a worrying statistic. In what was previously considered a people-friendly sector, colleagues are now reporting feeling unsafe. Our respondents felt most vulnerable when:

  • Outnumbered by customers (37%)
  • Working alone (33%)
  • Unable to communicate with security or co-workers (33%)
  • When customers are abusive (32%)

Many colleagues had experienced a situation where they felt their physical safety was at risk in-store. Over three quarters of colleagues reported this worrying trend.

These two points of data show that although colleagues enjoy their work, it puts them in a vulnerable physical position. Whether that is relating to the exposure to airborne disease, or contact with possibly infected customers, or the demands of anxious customers, workers feel physically unsteady. This is something employers should be concerned about.

Over a quarter of our respondents said they were concerned for the safety of themselves or their colleagues most days at work. This is startling, considering 2.9 million people work in this industry. Sadly, less than a third (32%) would call for help if worried and less than half (43%) said they would report their concerns to their manager.

What does this mean? Retail colleagues are suffering from numerous daily challenges at work. They face being at the brunt of customer queries, whilst working in conditions that many consider ‘unsafe’ due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite all these challenges, colleagues still enjoy their jobs. This is gladdening, but it’s concerning that not enough colleagues feel confident in reporting their concerns.

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