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Understanding the challenges of mental health in retail 

In recent years, there has been a surge in raising awareness regarding mental wellbeing and the negative effects of poor mental health conditions on employees’ performance…. View Article


Understanding the challenges of mental health in retail 

In recent years, there has been a surge in raising awareness regarding mental wellbeing and the negative effects of poor mental health conditions on employees’ performance. This is especially true for the retail sector, which has been facing difficult challenges and structural changes.

According to data by the Retail Trust, 80% of UK retail employees have felt more stressed in the past year of working, while 50% of managers have noted an increase in discharge due to psychological problems. These statistics illustrate the need for immediate policy action on the retail mental health crisis. 

Investing in improving employees’ mental health and wellbeing, not only fulfils a social and ethical responsibility, but it will also benefit your brand reputation and employment branding, making your organisation a great place to work. However, reaching a good level of wellbeing in retail isn’t always easy due to the nature of the business and structural and physical impediments.

Recognising the obstacles your team encounters is crucial for devising impactful mental health support strategies. In this blog, we’ll delve into the various challenges that retail employees commonly confront during their daily tasks.

Exploring the diverse challenges to retail workers’ mental wellbeing

Retail workers experience a multitude of challenges in the retail industry falling under multiple categories. In turn, these challenges are interlinked with their mental health in one way or another. Some originate from the work settings, and some result from out-of-the-reach factors that exist beyond the physical retail space. Nonetheless, a retail setting represents complex interactions that cause, escalate, and increase feelings of stress and anxiety, tension, and overall mental strain.

For example, this may include the physical conditions of the workplace, such as noise and light, as well as the high-paced nature and expectations of the retail sector. In addition, variables such as economic instability, societal expectations, and customer-facing routine interactions may also increase workers’ mental health problems. It is paramount to perceive the multifaceted causes of the problem in order to implement comprehensive wellbeing strategies that tackle risks and create a nurturing and protective company culture. If you are trying to tackle mental health and improve the overall employee experience, check our article Employee Mental Health Toolkit For Retail HR.

The impact of retail environments on employee’s mental health

Among the things that prevent retail employees from feeling comfortable and satisfied in their workplace, are poor working environments and facilities, including:

  • Inadequate facilities: Retail workers may experience poorly maintained restrooms, in addition to overpopulated changing rooms and insufficient break rooms. Not only is the lack of proper restroom amenities very inconvenient and humiliating, but it also implies that the employer does not care for its workers, which has a negative impact on mental health.
  • Poor lighting and noise pollution: The presence of noise pollution and inadequate lighting will have a negative impact on the mental health of employees. Although it could be contended that stores ought to have adequate lighting through big windows to prevent workers from suffering from headaches and eyestrain, the question remains whether or not a combination of these symptoms can contribute to mood disorders.

The stress levels and depths of perception of employees will be amplified in environments that are noisy, such as crowded places, loud music, and individuals with low perception levels. In the long run, this will have an impact on job performance and morale.

  • Pressured work environments: Although there are obvious sources of stress in the workplace, such as high sales quotas and demanding operational duties, there are additional sources of stress. Employees may experience feelings of helplessness and overwhelm due to rigid scheduling or limited control over their hours. Particularly, if their work environment is a source of stress. Also, this inequality may help establish the retail worker’s value or contribute to the feeling of not being “enough” due to the absence of recognition for outstanding work.
  • Safety concerns: Retail workers are often exposed to safety hazards in their workplace. The threats may involve insufficient security at the workplace. The dangers of accidents or injuries can be caused by worn-out machinery or goods stashed too close to each other in the aisles. Subsequently, the safety hazards are not limited to physical risks and extend to increased levels of stress and fear for the employees.
  • Lack of training and support: There are situations when a retail job impacts workers’ performance and challenges their mental health due to the lack of training or professional support. When an employee is not given clear instructions and resources that can be used to mollify confrontations or complaints from customers and retail partners, they can be pressured to adopt unethical measures to ‘clean up’ the situation.

In conclusion, employers should improve the working areas, reduce noise pollution, and decrease work-related stress. They should ensure safety and offer comfort and success opportunities through continued training, support services, and safety measures.

It is vital to acknowledge and combat the various challenges to ensure a healthy, mentally safe work environment for the retail industry’s workers. 

External factors affecting retail workers’ mental health

In addition to poor physical retail environments, external factors also play a part in retail workers’ mental health:

  • Financial strain due to cost-of-living crisis: Many retail employees may be concerned about their financial security due to the persistent cost-of-living crisis, which includes inflation and stagnant wages. As a result, they may experience persistent anxiety about meeting their basic needs. Anxieties, worries, and even low spirits or depression can set in when one’s worries permeate every part of their life.

Retail workers may have to work extra hours or get a second job just to pay the bills, resulting in exhaustion, lack of engagement, and ultimately mental health issues. Retail Trust reported the urgent need for enhanced well-being support amidst this crisis, emphasising the importance of proactive measures to safeguard the mental and financial well-being of retail workers.

  • Emotional impact of shoplifting and theft: In addition to causing actual financial damage to the store in question, both shoplifting and theft cause an immense emotional toll on the workers. In addition to being angry and frustrated by the issue itself, workers feel shame and helplessness. The need to always be alert and fearful of theft creates a generally stressful atmosphere at the workplace. When shoplifters become aggressive, this can potentially cause trauma for the targeted employee.
  • Disrupted work-life balance: Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is critical to mental health, but it is extremely difficult when one’s job is unpredictable and irregular. People who work in retail cannot rely on a consistent schedule outside of work because their shifts are constantly changing. Employees lack the mental capacity to plan ahead, commit to others, or even care for themselves. 

Workers become resentful and burnt out as a result of a lack of control over their time, and their relationships with loved ones suffer as a result of the neglected time spent working. Scheduling errors may cause young workers and their families to live lives of isolation and loneliness. Random changes can have a significant impact on employees’ financial security. Collecting a consistent amount of money throughout the workweek becomes more difficult due to the variable hours. Anxiety and depression persist as a result of the widespread economic insecurity caused by irregular schedules. This contributes to employees’ feelings of inadequacy in terms of meeting their responsibilities, making progress, or surviving.

  • Customer aggression and hostility: retail workers are often subjected to verbal abuse and threats by angry and abusive customers. Such encounters can be profoundly distressing. Continued exposure to confrontational situations can also have an impact on retail workers’ self-esteem and confidence. In extreme cases, retail workers may experience physical violence from customers, ranging from pushing and shoving to outright assault. Even a one-time such event can traumatise the psyche of a worker, causing numerous mental health issues from posttraumatic stress disorder to depression. 

Customer interactions and retail workplace pressures

As a sector largely reliant on customer service the impact of customer interaction on retail workers’ mental health deserves a deep consideration. Retail workers often face client threats and verbal abuse. Studies show that 70% of retail employees have experienced verbal abuse and 46% have seen customer threats, which is alarming. These interactions cause stress immediately and can cause mental health issues later.

Office violence victims often lose resilience and self-esteem, making them fearful and anxious about their jobs. Working long hours in retail is mentally taxing. Workers struggle to balance work and life due to night, weekend, and other shift irregularities.

Lack of paid sick days and inadequate benefits exacerbates the problem, leading to situations that promote exhaustion, lack of drive, and burnout. Fatigue and job dissatisfaction further lower morale and diminish respect. Additionally, the absence of worker-friendly support systems and stress-reduction methods worsens the situation.

The impact of retail work on mental health

Over time, stress can damage retail workers’ mental health. Due to job stress, retail workers often develop depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Unreliable work, financial instability, and customer mistreatment “nurture” mental illness. Workers can experience depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, and flashbacks. Hostile workplaces may make employees less engaged, more likely to call in sick, and less likely to stay.

Because high employee turnover stresses mental health, the risks can escalate. Negative working conditions can harm retail workers’ mental health if left unchecked. The issue is so severe that it requires industry-wide support and prevention. HR professionals in retail should continuously monitor their employees’ mental health, a task made easier with specialised HR software for the retail industry.

Final thoughts

The impact of retail work on employees’ mental health is evident. It affects job satisfaction, motivation, and, ultimately, organisational profitability.

Addressing these mental health challenges and organising support systems can foster a positive company culture, enhance employee engagement, and uphold responsibility for employee well-being.

Retailers also need to account for the diversity in retail. This diversity goes beyond ethnicity and gender and may also include workers of different ages and from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Therefore, HR should strive to create an environment based on the principles of inclusivity and support, which will help deal with mental issues effectively.

Retail HR professionals must face these issues to develop effective strategies for supporting the physical and mental health of retail workers.

Empower your HR team to cultivate a thriving company culture and retain top talent by joining us at our upcoming retail event, Retail HR Central 2024, on May 15th. Register now to secure your spot!


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