UK retail sector facing 'mental health storm' as stress and anxiety mount during Covid-19 pandemic

Following 125,000 job losses and a 164% surge in those seeking mental health support, industry charity retailTRUST is calling on retail leaders to protect employees' wellbeing

As the UK retail sector continues to struggle amid the slew of forced store closures and job cuts due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, employees are said to be facing an oncoming 'mental health storm' as Covid-induced stress and anxiety takes its toll.

In its 2020 Health of Retail report, retail charity retailTRUST reported a 164% increase in applications for health support, with the majority relating to mental health issues, following the closure of 13,867 stores this year, contributing to the losses of 125,000 jobs, and the threat of 700,000 further redundancies on the horizon.

In addition to financial difficulties and uncertainty about the future, retail workers have also found themselves the target of abuse by frustrated consumers as a result of lockdown restrictions; 424 incidents of violence or abuse towards retail staff are estimated to occur every day, up 9% from 2019, according to the report.

Health and beauty retailer Superdrug also recently reported a 21% increase in aggressive and violent behaviour towards its employees during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Adrian Massey, author of the report and Chief Medical Advisor at retailTRUST, said: “Surveys of mental wellbeing demonstrate widespread distress across the population.

“Socioeconomically, the pandemic has been linked with a host of hardships: isolation, bereavement, alcohol and drug use, domestic violence, financial strain and criminality.

“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.”

Supporting the shop floor

In response, retailTRUST has launched its #forthefour campaign, teaming up with retailers across a variety of sectors, including beauty, to raise awareness and advise industry leaders on how to support their employees.

Named after the 'four in four' UK adults who will experience a major setback or life event impacting their mental and physical wellbeing, the campaign includes a free 'Championing the Health of Retail' online event, with more than 160 retailers taking part including Boots, Harvey Nichols, ASOS and Boohoo.

Chris Brook-Carter, CEO of retailTRUST, added: “The retail industry is the second largest employer in the UK after the NHS, so the sector has a huge responsibility to come together during the most challenging period of retailTRUST’s 188-year history.

“Our vision for our #forthefour campaign is for every one of our colleagues to have free and quick access to help and preventative support to manage their wellbeing whenever they need it by building a coalition of businesses and leaders that recognises the responsibility the industry has to look after the people that contribute to its financial success, and build a healthy, happy, diverse and inclusive workforce that reflects retail’s position as the premier industry in the UK economy.”

The 'Championing the Health of Retail' event will run from 19-21 October and those interested can sign up at retailtrust.org/forthefour.

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