‘Mental health storm’ brewing for retail, warns industry charity

shop assistant

The UK retail sector has a once in a lifetime opportunity to prevent a potential mental health storm that could impact millions of workers, according to industry charity retailTRUST.

On the eve of World Mental Health Day (10 October) and ahead of National Work Life Week (12-16 October), retailTRUST has launched its ‘2020 Health of Retail’ report, which identified three key triggers causing stress and anxiousness in UK retail workers:

  1. Financial instability. This year so far 13,867 shops have closed, up 24.8% on same period last year, non-food retailers have lost more than £9 billion in sales, and 125,000 retail jobs have been lost. Furthermore, the imminent end of the government’s Job Retention Scheme (31 October) and uncertainty around the Job Support Scheme, which is set to replace it, are all causing concern.
  2. Uncertainty and the fear of the unknown, caused by the threat of redundancy. The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) reported 700,000 UK employees at risk of being made redundant in the second half of 2020. Workers are also bombarded with negative reporting about the future performance of the UK retail sector.
  3. Social disconnect at home and work. Lockdown restrictions have led directly to an increase in physical, verbal and racial assaults from customers and a ‘hero to zero’ change in public opinion about store workers.

“Socioeconomically, the pandemic has been linked with a host of hardships: isolation, bereavement, alcohol and drug use, domestic violence, financial strain and criminality,” said retailTRUST Chief Medical Advisor Dr Adrian Massey, who authored the 2020 Health of Retail Report.

“Surveys of mental wellbeing demonstrate widespread distress across the population. Demand for public services is acute and the abrupt decline in economic activity means government access to funding is constrained. Retail workers are especially exposed to Covid-19 related health and wealth risks and, if we are to minimise subsequent harm, we must pull together now to offer support.”

In light of the report, retailTRUST has launched a nationwide #forthefour campaign, calling on retail leaders to act now to protect the wellbeing of the industry’s 4.5 million-strong workforce.

The retailTRUST #forthefour nationwide campaign includes a three-day ‘Championing the Health of Retail’ event, which runs from 19-21 October and helps retail leaders to ‘lead the industry’, ‘lead their teams’ and ‘lead themselves’. Presenters include Boots COO Tracey Clements, Dixons Carphone Chief People Officer Paula Coughlan, former Asda CEO Andy Clarke, ASOS non-exec director Rita Clifton CBE and Dr Adrian Massey.

Retailers are invited to sign up for free at the charity’s website.