A new report* has found that UK retail workers are suffering among the lowest mental wellbeing of any employee group, with the pandemic continuing to worsen staff’s mental health.
retailTRUST is calling on the industry to champion the health of its workforce after the major survey of nearly 1,300 retail staff revealed their average wellbeing levels are much lower than in people working within a range of other sectors, including healthcare and education*.
84% of retail workers said their mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic, leading to symptoms like increased anxiety, changes in eating or sleeping habits and long-lasting sadness for more than a third of staff. Nearly two thirds of retail managers said they had been left overwhelmed by the extra work created by the pandemic.
People working on the shop floor and in distribution warehouses, as well as younger retail workers in their 20s, have the lowest levels of wellbeing according to the study.
The research was also carried out among more than 20 household name retailers to find out what they are doing to help staff. It found many are introducing measures to increase communication with employees and provide access to mental health services and training, although several admitted they were investing in this area for the first time and most others said they have not increased their mental health budgets since the pandemic. 30% said they have now put in place a strategic plan that allows them to measure the success of initiatives and their impact on staff wellbeing.
91% of retail managers said they have noticed an increase in mental health issues among staff but 28% said they didn’t have enough help from their company to support them.
Leaders from a number of retailers including Morrisons, ASOS and John Lewis will take part in a free digital event being run by retailTRUST next week (10 and 11 May) looking at how to build hope, health and happiness for UK retail’s four million strong workforce.
There will also be advice on managing mental health and financial pressures for everyone working in the retail sector, with former political aide and mental health advocate Alastair Campbell taking part to stress why employers should drive openness around mental health.
David Potts, chief executive of Morrisons, said: “This has been an exceptionally challenging year for everyone in retail. Health, wellbeing and especially mental health must continue to be at the very centre of the retail conversation as we make plans for the route out of Covid and prepare to come back stronger.”
Nick Beighton, CEO at ASOS, said: “The past year has been incredibly difficult for everyone, and as we’ve adapted to new ways of working, limited social interaction, and an unprecedented amount of time spent indoors, supporting mental health in the workplace has been more important than ever. The benefits of this go far beyond boosting productivity and company morale.”
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of BRC said: “All in retail have been impacted by the pandemic, from those in the front line helping to feed a nation, to those working in distribution centres and logistics ensuring we can get our latest deliveries. Many have faced challenges of being bounced from open to closed and back, bringing uncertainty to their lives and livelihoods. They are all heroes, and we must ensure we continue to support them, and each other, as we emerge from the crisis. UK retail will continue to be world-leading, but only thanks to the indomitable efforts of everyone who is part of our industry.”
Demand for retailTRUST’s financial and wellbeing services hit record levels last year with more than £800,000 in financial aid provided by retailTRUST last year to help retail workers stay in their own homes and meet other essential needs, a 125 per cent rise on 2019. The charity also ran more than 6,000 counselling sessions as demand for its mental health support grew by164 per cent.
Financial aid from retailTRUST supported business owner Libby Mata Harii after she was diagnosed with OCD, depression, anxiety and PTSD and was left unable to work.
Libby said: “I had to stop work in August 2020 due to the extreme mental health issues. I had had psychotic episodes, suicidal thoughts and a breakdown. The Trust helped me pay the heating bill. Our windows are old and broken and we were all freezing!”
“Not only has it lifted the weight of a big financial burden and meant we can turn our heating on, it has also given me hope. And a feeling of knowing I deserve help, I deserve support and I deserve money. So, it’s not only helped us practically, it’s helped me heal psychologically as well.”
Chris Brook-Carter, chief executive of retailTRUST, said: “The pandemic has highlighted the importance of the retail sector to the UK and our economy whilst intensifying the extremely difficult personal challenges facing those working in the sector.
“Retail workers been hard hit financially, emotionally and physically over the last 12 months as our research shows, and it is clear that the retail sector now has a vital role to play in building hope, health and happiness as we move out of this crisis. Businesses who step up now will be rewarded with healthier and happier workers, a positive culture and ultimately, business growth.”
*Survey by the charity retailTRUST