When the COVID-19 pandemic halted nearly everything in early 2020, many people were left unemployed and uncertain of their futures. One industry that was hit hard was the retail industry. Retail workers were suddenly forced to wear many hats (and all while wearing many masks in a given week). These employees went from performing standard customer service to becoming store bouncers and health monitors. They were responsible for enforcing health and safety protocols, social distancing practices, proper mask wear, and even had to mitigate any escalating situations with frustrated customers. Retail workers have had a lot placed on their shoulders, and it looks like that trend isn’t letting up anytime soon.
Mental Health and Retail WorkersOne large aspect of the retail worker’s experience during the pandemic is mental health. While many others were furloughed or suffered department cuts, retail workers, on the other hand, were forced to stay active during the lockdown. Faced with a spike in stress from customers, there was a corresponding effect on these essential employees. Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) found that 61 percent of employees working in retail reported instances of verbal abuse and threats during the pandemic (Hrzone.com). The long-lasting health impact of retail workers and customer service representatives from this pandemic has been considerable.
The Big QuestionNow that vaccines are rolling out across the country and scientists are tracing variants, the big question is whether there will be any future implementation of mask mandates and how this will continue to affect retail workers’ responsibilities. Dr. Anthony Fauci has stated that the vaccines will not function like a light switch, although evidence that vaccines provide protection against some variants has been increasing. Under guidelines from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), those who remain unvaccinated should not abandon wearing face masks and social distancing (cdc.gov). Unfortunately, this could lead to even more hostility with customers as store employees continue to enforce changing mask guidelines through 2021. With pandemic fatigue and differing regulations for each state, customers’ stress and anxiety can lead to heated situations that retail employees must be empowered to cool.
What Can We Do to Help Retail and Essential Workers?First, it’s helpful to acknowledge that these employees have extremely difficult jobs. Creating initiatives that prioritize empathy and de-escalation rather than anger and frustration is a great way to start. As the retail industry juggles loosening guidelines, communication with employees about the reasoning behind broad management decisions helps employees embrace quick company pivots and maintain a positive frame of mind. We are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but giving employees tools and training to succeed now empowers and provides a diverse set of skills they can use both now and in the future.
Check out these courses OpenSesame offers for retail workers:
- Retail Top Tips by Mind Channel
- De-Escalating COVID-19 Conflict: When You Can’t Wear a Mask in the Workplace
- Retail Conflict Management: Phases of Escalation
With courses offered in multiple languages and available on multiple devices, OpenSesame helps companies like yours develop the world’s most developed and admired global workforces. Check out our free course of the week, and if you have any questions, contact us at [email protected] today.
- Nadin, Gethin. “Employee experience: looking after the mental health of customer-facing employees,” HRZone, October 20, 2020, hrzone.com/perform/people/employee-experience-looking-after-the-mental-health-of-customer-facing-employees.
- CDC. “Choosing Safer Activities,” CDC, May 28, 2021, cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/participate-in-activities.html.