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Less cheer, more fear for retail workers this holiday season

New mental health research reveals a quarter of retail workers face customer abuse


Whether you love or hate it, increased levels of activity at the shops at Christmas time is inevitable. But spare a thought for the thousands of retail workers who will face violence, verbal abuse and bullying from customers on a daily basis throughout this festive season.

Over the last 12 months, research shows young workers aged between 18-24 years are the most common target of workplace violence from customers (22%) with bullying also disturbingly common (17%).

According to SuperFriend, which has recently released more data from its ‘Indicators of a Thriving Workplace’ Report (Australia’s largest workplace mental health and wellbeing survey), retail workers of all ages are affected by violence and bullying, which look set to worsen as the industry enters its busiest period. They are paying a heavy price though: three quarters (75%) of all retail workers who faced workplace violence and bullying experienced a mental health condition in the last 12 months, and 61% of those believe their current workplace caused it or made it worse.

Margo Lydon, SuperFriend CEO, says the findings are a wake-up call for all of us as customers, as well as the retail sector and explains how cultivating a mentally healthy workplace is good for business:

“As the largest employer of young people in Australia and one of the biggest for women employees, owners and managers in the retail industry have a vested interest in supporting and protecting their permanent and casual staff from both a wellbeing and a business perspective during this upcoming holiday season,” says Margo.

“It’s no coincidence that people who endure workplace violence or bullying are more likely to experience lower job satisfaction, higher absenteeism and reduced productivity at work. It is therefore in the best interest of businesses to listen to their staff and take appropriate action to reduce workplace conflict and minimise its impact,” adds Margo.

Insights from SuperFriend’s Sandra Surace, Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing Consultant, are even more sobering:

“In the survey, retail workers said they are ‘burnt out, exhausted and dread every shift’ and that ‘some days it doesn’t seem worth the tears’. Other retail workers say, customers can be so nasty that they do not care about how they treat the workers, and that these encounters affect their sleep, relationships and ability to function”, she adds.

“Unfortunately the types of interactions that retail workers deal with on a daily basis can have a long-lasting impact on an individual’s wellbeing, with many going on to experience symptoms of stress disorder, mental health issues, anxiety and depression.”

Sandra fears the challenges retail workers will face this holiday season will be worse than ever given all the added industry pressures of staff and product shortages, enforcing vaccine mandates and verifications, high consumer demand, and disrespectful customers who are exhibiting signs of high stress themselves.

Sandra says organisations will reap the benefits from a thriving workforce only when they evolve and adapt their practices and policies to best support their workers and provide opportunities to learn strategies on how to deal with customer interactions. This in turn will help improve staff retention and productivity, which has become even more essential in a talent shortage market.

To access this year’s extensive research findings, including insights and actionable advice to help achieve thriving workplaces, visit:


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