Trust issues: Life may be returning to normal, but shop staff need more support than ever
Guest Post: By Chris Brook-Carter, chief executive, the Retail Trust.
The fact that life may, slowly and surely, be returning to some kind of normality is of course brilliant news for every single one of us, but not least for those of you working within retail who have been hit so hard financially, emotionally and physically by the drastic changes in working conditions and the thousands of store closures and job losses since the start of the pandemic.
And, while the easing of all restrictions is ultimately a positive move for businesses and the economy, the impact on the millions of people working in the retail industry has been anything but smooth since UK shops reopened their doors following the end of this year’s lockdown.
Indeed, these last few months have now brought with them a number of fresh challenges, which continue to create a great deal of uncertainty for already-under-pressure businesses and employees.
Now, as we look to the start of the golden quarter, typically the busiest time of year for retail but this year with the added insecurity of new changes in policy, uncertainty around stock levels, or a fluctuating number of Covid cases, everyone working in the sector is going to need the right support both survive and most importantly thrive during the autumn and winter months ahead.
Already we have been warned that changes to the furlough scheme, and its planned closure at the end of September, could lead to yet more job losses from industries like retail and hospitality, with the British Chamber of Commerce finding that one in five businesses intend to make staff redundant as a result.
Removing the legal requirements to wear masks or socially distance in shops from last month has increased anxiety among shop workers and raised the likelihood of another rise in customer disputes, with so many staff reporting terrible incidents of physical or verbal abuse as a result of asking people to stick to the guidelines over the 18 months.
And the impact of an increasing number of people having to self-isolate has resulted in some crippling shortages of staff that has led to low stock levels, empty shelves and even some businesses having to temporarily close their doors.
This is all against a backdrop of an unsteady footfall and a rising number of empty stores, with so many retail stalwarts including Gap, Topshop, John Lewis and Debenhams pulling their shops from the high street this year, very sadly resulting in tens of thousands of job losses.
These pressures have certainly been borne out in the increasing number of people coming to the Retail Trust since the start of the pandemic. As a charity, we’ve given more than £1 million in financial aid and run over 10,000 counselling sessions. Now we’re seeing a 22% increase in calls to the Retail Trust’s wellbeing helpline since the start of July, from people struggling to deal with the continuing uncertainty facing the industry.
One thing is clear. We all have a responsibility to support our employees’ wellbeing and it is so important we look to the right training and support to help colleagues deal with the ongoing uncertainty ahead.
Because, as we all begin to tentatively look forward to the future and think about life in our post-pandemic world, it is critical that the retail industry takes what learnings it can from the last year in order to build hope, health and happiness for the sector.
Retail workers who need to access retailTRUST support can contact the free and confidential wellbeing helpline on 0808 801 0808.
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