Staff shortage pressure: One in four retail employees considering leaving the sector due to excessive stress

Up to 30% of staff have taken time off work for mental health reasons in the last year

Compared to employees in other UK sectors, nearly double the number of retail employees is considering leaving their jobs because of excessive stress suffered during the last year. 26% of employees are thinking about leaving the industry, making them nearly twice as likely as the average worker to feel this way. Only 13% of people were close to quitting their role across healthcare, teaching and education, transport and logistics and finance.

In addition to these disillusioned retail employees considering leaving and quitting, 5% of workers have already left the sector due to stress.

With winter escalating Covid-19 infection rates and Christmas just around the corner, pressure is beginning to pile on the retail service, causing concerns that a staff shortage will place extra strain on the sector.

Inadequate support

As many as three in five retail workers have experienced excessive stress at work over the last year. Many of them (28%) felt their employers didn’t provide the support they needed.

(16%) of workers in the industry have taken statutory sick days or unpaid leave due to mental health issues, with one in five suffering from mental health issues other than stress over the last year.

The 2021 Stress and Mental Health study asked retail professionals working for 67 employers in the UK about their experience of stress and mental health issues in the workplace, the cause of excessive stress in their role and the impacts on life outside of work.

Danni Scott, a previous employee at an Apple Premium Reseller, said:

“Retail is a melting pot of different pressures. We deal with aggressive and disrespectful customers daily, management structures that deem us replaceable and low wages for a lot of work. I have been reduced to tears multiple times because of people shouting at me for things I could not control.

“Retail is seen as an unskilled job – despite the fact you have to have a multitude of skills to work there effectively. I was made redundant after stepping into an interim management role and helping ship the entirety of stock back to head office one day before the first lockdown. I was made redundant despite the fact I was the top salesperson in the store. I went through the emotions of leaving, saying goodbye to my colleagues, planning my next steps for HR to call me the very next day and offer my job back. The emotional stress I felt was unbelievable.

“I think the biggest issue retail needs to combat is to put more procedures in place to stop customer-facing employees from having to deal with the wrath of complaints. Zero-tolerance policies go a long way to helping employees feel respected and looked after by their companies. Listen to your employees, if there is a policy implemented that is not working out and your staff are telling you that it doesn’t work then listen to them”.

Impacts of excessive stress

Almost 40% of retail workers impacted by excessive stress were struggling to pay their bills – citing low pay in the industry as a contributing factor. Meanwhile, over a third (37%) were struggling to cope with their ‘unmanageable’ workload.

For 23%, lack of support and bad management left employees feeling excessive levels of stress.

Richard Holmes, Director of Wellbeing at Westfield Health, says:

“Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Pressure at work is usually the main culprit and when budgets are tight and teams are small, people often find themselves with multiple roles and heavy workloads, piling on the stress.

Policies like turning off email servers outside of working hours helps ring fence valuable recovery time. Mental health first aid training can also help managers spot the signs or triggers and put preventions in place.”