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Employee wellbeing is suffering after a gruelling two years. A recent survey by the Financial Times and insurer Vitality points to a surge in mental ill health and anxiety and a rise in sickness absences and “presenteeism” or unproductive working. The Mental Health Foundation warns the UK population is experiencing widespread levels of stress, anxiety and hopelessness in response to financial concerns.
The UK retail sector is keenly aware that the wellbeing of its 3 million strong workforce – many of whom are on low and middle incomes and so acutely impacted by the cost-of-living crisis – could be particularly at risk. Retail workers are already recovering after substantial efforts as pandemic key workers, a period which saw a rise in reported cases of aggressive behaviour and harassment against retail workers.
Retail employers have already made significant efforts this year to support their employees. This effort needs to continue into 2023. The Retail Trust's Health of Retail report found that retail is one of the unhappiest industries to work in compared to other sectors with one in five retail workers planning to leave the sector. The charity has launched its 'Let's Respect Retail Campaign' in response to evidence that verbal and physical assaults on retail workers are worsening as the cost-of-living crisis takes hold. Retailers are being scrutinised not just by workers themselves but also shareholders – investors have said they will be focussed in 2023 on what employers are doing to support lower wage employees amidst the cost-of-living crisis.
Retailers need to take care to understand the root causes of wellbeing issues and focus initiatives accordingly.
Interviewed recently in the Financial Times, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, an economist at the University of Oxford emphasises "the importance for wellbeing of strong workplace social networks, supportive teams, mentoring, individual autonomy, flexibility and a sense of purpose."
He stresses “There is one piece of really good evidence: you can’t yoga your way out of these more structural issues underpinning mental and physical health. That’s not to say mindfulness is a bad thing, but it’s not addressing the main structural causes.”
The CIPD's latest health and wellbeing at work report shows that around half of organisations surveyed still did not have a formal wellbeing strategy. The CIPD advocate a holistic and integrated approach to wellbeing focussed on providing good work. This means creating working conditions and a work environment that manages and mitigates health risks.
Collecting good data is key. Alongside staff surveys, retailers can provide opportunities and safe environments for workers to voice concerns but also raise ideas for improvement. Foot Anstey has launched in collaboration with the Retail Trust the Retailers Against Harassment Certification programme which provides retailers with an opportunity to gather viewpoints from within their organisation to evaluate the effectiveness of measures in place to protect workers. The programme, which is led by specialist employment lawyers, helps to identify what measures are working well, but also where further support could be provided and practical solutions for doing so.
To help employers focus their efforts, CIPD has identified seven domains for good employee wellbeing: health, good work, values / principles including good leadership, collective / social, personal growth, good lifestyle choices, and financial wellbeing.
The final domain of financial wellbeing is going to be vitally important in 2023. In the CIPD's 2022 health and wellbeing at work report, over 50% of employers surveyed place a little or no emphasis on financial wellbeing in their wellbeing activities.
A survey by Qualtrics in August and September 2022 revealed that 35% of full-time workers have looked for jobs with higher salaries, and 15% were planning to look for a second job. 77% would work overtime or extra shifts in a bid to increase their take-home pay. Many retailers are increasing rates of pay – but offering flexibility to take on extra shifts or responsibilities to give employees the option to boost their income is an additional strategy to assist with retention.
Employers can be effective and trusted conduits of information. Retailers could promote internal support available to employees such as Mental Health First Aiders or employee assistance schemes. Or retailers could share information about external sources of support with the cost of living such as the Government’s Tax Free Childcare scheme to assist with the costs of childcare. The Retail Trust has a wide range of resources available for retail workers to assist with their wellbeing.
Workers may be making decisions in the current cost-of-living crisis that could have negative long-term implications. For example, there is evidence that workers are putting off pension contributions to boost monthly take home pay. Employers can invite in external speakers to offer financial education to help workers plan for today and the future.
There is no doubt that the upcoming months will be tough for employees and business owners across various industries and sectors, but there are precautions and measures that can be put in place to support those that will be feeling the pinch of the cost of living crisis. At Foot Anstey we pride ourselves on providing pragmatic legal advice that can support a business through the toughest times. If you'd like more information on how we can do this please get in touch with the team members below.