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Protecting the future retail workforce: prioritising safety of young employees

By Naz Dossa – BSIA Chair of the Lone Worker Group and CEO at Peoplesafe. Retail is the first paid job for many young people in… View Article


Protecting the future retail workforce: prioritising safety of young employees

By Naz Dossa – BSIA Chair of the Lone Worker Group and CEO at Peoplesafe.

Retail is the first paid job for many young people in the UK and many businesses in the sector find themselves increasingly reliant on this invaluable workforce. Retail is the single biggest employer for 22-to-29-year-olds, according to latest Office for National Statistics data, and recruitment company Retail Appointment reports that a third of UK retail employees are under 25. 1

In today’s climate of rising aggression and violence towards retail staff, alongside the associated recruitment and retention challenges, employers are under increasing pressure to protect their people. And this applies particularly to the younger employees for whom this might be their very first foray into paid work. Increasing shoplifting and assaults on retail staff are concerning and widely covered by the media, so having personal technology in-store and clear policies that consider specific staff demographic – including younger, less experienced staff –  must become mandatory. A young worker just out of school or university will have very different needs and experience to an employee who is years into their career.

Investment made in training and safety is therefore more important than ever. Teaching valuable workplace skills is part of best practice for most retail employers, but with many young people working alongside school and university studies, or taking their first steps into career independence, there is an opportunity for retail leaders to really step up to ensure that their future workforce is safe. This includes on the way to and from work, during breaks, and as well as expanding protection to minimise risks from shoplifters, assaults and anti-social behaviour.

To make this happen, training for managers should be extended beyond blanket tick box to consider each individual employee’s needs. Regular check-ins with individual staff about their potential safety concerns, late working or anti-social hours and travel arrangements enables managers to pick up on issues before they become serious concerns.  It feels like a no-brainer.

Commuting is a big issue but remains a grey area when it comes to employer responsibility. Yet safe travel to and from work are crucial aspects of that first step into the world of work that influence young people – and the parents of school-leavers – and needs to be a focus for more retail employers.

Our own research2 suggests that personal safety and perception of, both at work and on the journey to and from, is a big issue. Protection in-store must be extended to the commute to ensure employees feel safe and are fully protected. For people who travel to work in uniform or travel into and out of areas with ongoing issues, this is nothing short of essential.

Prioritising relationships with transport providers and local councils is another way for retailers to work proactively around the commute issue, as is promoting the available public transport options, pricing and timetables to incoming staff. Peak travel costs and patchy bus and train networks can have immediate effects on employee satisfaction and can be particularly unsafe for young, inexperienced workers. Time spent waiting for transport where timetables don’t fit with working hours can make for long working days and vulnerability, especially during anti-social hours. Equally, expensive parking or having to park in badly lit streets can similarly impact personal safety and the perception of it.

Anecdotal research also highlights that store reputations, including the isolation of out-of-town locations, can lead to parents, friends and educational establishments influencing potential employees to reject job offers and existing employees to resign, if there are associated safety issues. With 72% of retail businesses saying that they have experienced recruitment issues,3 surely the safety of employees should be addressed as part of recruitment and the measures taken highlighted as part of the job description? With personal safety equipment becoming part of the benefit package. Increasingly these kinds of tangible safety benefits will help an employer to recruit, particularly where salary bands cannot flex.

While the future of young people in retail and the funnel of future leadership candidates is affected by a range of internal and external factors, a retailer who can be seen to value their team’s safety can develop a positive reputation for championing safety both in the workplace and in the community. Equally, failure to address these concerns adds to the ticking time bomb of recruitment issues already exacerbated by the threat against personal safety that’s now occurring daily on our high streets.

Chris Brook-Carter, chief executive of the Retail Trust, said: “Retail has got a fantastic track record of people moving from the shop floor to the boardroom of the very biggest retailers in the country so we are concerned that the industry’s reputation as a great place to begin or build a career could now be under threat.

“But that’s why we’re inspired by the employers we’re working with who are making efforts to protect the safety and wellbeing of their people, including using data to better understand how their workforces are feeling and ensuring the right support and training is in place. They are not only creating happier and healthier retail workplaces but also more sustainable and successful futures for their businesses and the retail industry as a whole.”

Driving best practice standards for safety will make retail a more considered choice for school leavers and university students alike, allowing the retail workforce, leaders and managers of tomorrow to focus on their workplace skills and build long term careers with confidence.

1 Retail Week 2021
3 British Chamber of Commerce October 2023

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