Help retail workers weather the mental health storm
You’re having “one of those days” — you know, the kind we all seem to be having with increasing regularity.
But you’ve got to pop to the shops to pick up some essentials. Parking is a nightmare, and to cap it all, it’s raining. You’re anxious about all sorts of things and quite frankly, you’re fed up.
So, when the person at the store entrance reminds you to put your mask on, it’s the final straw.
The resulting confrontation is becoming all too familiar for retail workers up and down the country.
The retail charity retailTRUST was created in 1832 with the intention of looking after the wellbeing of all workers in this sector, providing support both financially and emotionally. Unsurprisingly, this year has been one of — if not the — busiest in its 188-year history.
Faced with job uncertainty and the associated financial concerns, anxiety at continued potential exposure to the virus, and — sadly — a dramatic increase in abusive behaviour, retail workers are in the path of an incoming mental health storm. And if steps aren’t taken now to help them, the impact could be devastating.
When I speak to the chief executive of retailTRUST, Chris Brook-Carter, the picture he paints is stark.
“The coronavirus pandemic has led to more than 13,000 store closures and the loss of 125,000 jobs this year alone, and retail workers continue to face terrible concerns around Covid-19, job losses and a proven increase in violent, verbal and racial threats and abuse from shoppers. Applications from people seeking mental health support from retailTRUST has risen by 164 per cent this year, there has been a 50 per cent increase in applications for financial aid and a 404 per cent rise in the number of people looking for online support on our website”.
Of course, retail workers are not the only ones to be facing financial insecurity at this difficult time. But the raft of stores going into administration combined with the public-facing nature of these jobs is causing a mental health crisis within the sector.
And after a brief period of improvement over the summer when restrictions were relaxed, local lockdowns and the new Tier system are exacerbating the challenges in certain areas. Calls to retailTRUST’s helpline rose by 33 per cent year on year from workers in the newly locked down areas, and the charity expecting a further surge in demand from an already pressurised workforce as more and more regions follow.
Brook-Carter talks of a sharp surge in retail workers suffering from anxiety and mental health issues, and wants to encourage people to talk more openly about any mental health concerns they might be experiencing.
Still, the responsibility is on all of us, as shoppers, to recognise the situation and do our bit not to add to the pressure. As Brook-Carter points out: “We all have a stake in protecting the health of UK retail workers. These are, after all, essential workers”.
Pandemic fatigue is starting to set in across the nation, as the stress and uncertainty of the Covid era invade every aspect of our lives.
But next time you find yourself entering a supermarket or standing in that queue at the checkout, spare a thought for the person doing the scanning or requesting you kindly wear your mask. Because underneath that smiling exterior, they’re probably feeling just as anxious as you are.
retailTRUST is a registered charity based in North London which aims to support those working and retired from the retail industry in the United Kingdom. Should you or a colleague be affected by the issues raised in this article, you can contact the retailTRUST helpline at 0808 801 0808 or at https://retailtrust.org.uk
Main image credit: Getty