During COVID-19, a third of retail workers experienced physical abuse

Article by Olivia Robinson | 18th August 2020

Has COVID-19 increased incidences of customer abuse?

Retail workers are the forgotten frontline at times. Over the past three months, this group of workers has borne the brunt of facing a contagious virus at work, whilst having to deal with increasingly stressed customers. Our own research sadly shows almost a third of retail workers (32%) said protecting colleagues from customer abuse was the biggest challenge at work. 

Workers in retail feel understandably vulnerable right now. In fact, our own data shows 9 in 10 workers admit to feeling unsafe on a daily basis. The reasons for this vary, from feeling outnumbered by customers, to working alone, or being unable to communicate with the security team. But the most surprising factor wasn’t a team-related issue.

We found out that over 32% of retail workers felt that the biggest concern at work was unhappy or abusive customers. We delved a little deeper and the results became even more disturbing.

75% of retail workers said they experienced at least one situation where they felt their physical safety was compromised.

Download the full insight report here

No employer wants their employees to feel unsafe, let alone experience physically compromising events at work. The workplace should be a safe, happy place for everyone. But COVID-19 put an enormous strain on the daily lives of every UK citizen, and retail workers found themselves caught up in the middle of this. 

Nearly half of retail workers experienced verbal abuse during the pandemic, and nearly a third (32%) experienced physical abuse.

VoCoVo conducted research into how empowered retail workers felt at work, and the findings were interesting. Workers are often on a short-term career path. Many see this as a stop-gap between roles.  99% of retail workers had at least one concern about their role.

The main concerns were:

  • Shift patterns and hours (30%)
  • Career progression (28%)
  • Difficult customers (24%)
  • Pay (22%)
  • Abuse from customers (21%)
  • Lack of communication between colleagues (21%)
  • Unable to answer customer questions (21%)

Retail workers admitted to regularly witnessing altercations between customers and colleagues at work. Coupled with the threat of theft, this all makes for the retail workplace as an increasingly stressful place to be.

There is good news though. In fact, most of the retail staff we spoke to were happy in their roles. They remained satisfied despite working in such a challenging environment. 

What does this tell us? UK retail workers are determined to do right by the customers and enjoy their work, but the circumstances they face on a daily basis compromise those things. As employers, the best thing you can do is give your team the best chance of being able to communicate, help each other and stay positive through the coming months.

The struggle with COVID-19 isn’t over. We need to stay vigilant and prepared for the next chapter.

Talk to our experienced team about how you can help your staff communicate safely

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