The state of wellbeing in retail – how the pandemic impacted everything

Article by Martyn Jones | 3rd September 2021

Everyone has been affected in some way by the pandemic. Many have tragically lost family members or close friends, while many more have been left unemployed. This has taken a huge toll on the mental health of the nation. Throughout the pandemic, the Mental Health Foundation has been taking regular surveys of the UK population. The results paint a worrying picture:

  • 62% of adults were anxious at the start of the pandemic. A year later, 42% still felt this way. 
  • Those reporting feelings of loneliness rose from 10% in March 2020 to 26% in February 2021.
  • 73% felt they were coping well at the start of the pandemic, but this fell to 64% over  the course of the first year. 

Retail colleagues have had a harder time than most

As with most aspects of the pandemic, the impact on mental health has been felt more acutely by some groups than others. A recent survey by the charity Retail Trust found that retail colleagues are suffering the lowest levels of mental wellbeing in the entire UK workforce: 

  • 84% of retail colleagues said that the pandemic has damaged their mental health
  • More than a third have had trouble eating or sleeping
  • Colleagues in their twenties and those working in warehouses or on the shop floor are especially vulnerable to stress, anxiety and depression 

Why are things so bad in retail?

Retail colleagues have had to cope with pressures above and beyond those experienced by workers in other sectors. While much of the population was furloughed or working from home, retail colleagues remained on the frontline. As well as performing their usual activities, they found themselves in charge of enforcing ever-changing safety guidelines. Our 2020 survey of retail colleagues showed that the practical challenges of the pandemic were taking a serious toll on their wellbeing:

  • Half of colleagues struggled to communicate due to social distancing
  • 40% felt unable to answer customer queries adequately
  • 40% felt unsafe at work  

Read the full report here:

Things wouldn’t have been so bad if customers had done their bit to support colleagues. Instead, it seems that many customers took out their frustrations on retail colleagues:

  • Three quarters of colleagues noticed an increase in abuse during the pandemic
  • 64% were scared to implement COVID safety measures for fear retaliation from customers
  • 76% think that tougher action needs to be taken by the government to prevent abuse

What can be done?

Cliff Lee is the head of wellbeing at Retail Trust. He explains the importance of communication in helping colleagues to cope with customer abuse: 

“Abuse by the public has a significant impact on people’s happiness levels at work. Alongside formal training on how to deal with confrontation in the workplace, we recommend managers always check in with their team before the end of every shift. No one should go home without having had a debrief. Often just the simple act of talking about what you have experienced that day makes you leave feeling better and more supported.”

We agree that communication is the key to improving colleague wellbeing. All of our products are designed to keep colleagues connected. Whatever happens, our system ensures that colleagues never feel isolated or abandoned:

  • Headsets connect colleagues to security teams. Even when colleagues are working alone, they know that help is always at hand.
  • VoCoVo can be integrated with your telephone system, allowing colleagues to contact emergency services from anywhere in store.
  • Our message casting feature allows head office to share information with multiple stores at once. This gives colleagues peace of mind as they know they will never miss an important update. 
  • Keypads ensure that checkout colleagues don’t feel cut off from the team. Colleagues can report problems and call for help without having to leave their position. 

VoCoVo fosters an atmosphere of mutual support. Colleagues know that they are part of a team, and this makes them feel 52% safer. When colleagues can work without worrying about their safety, their general wellbeing is bound to increase. 

Give us a call to find out more, or book a 15 minute demo now

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