Providing hope, health and happiness for everyone working in retail is both morally and strategically the right thing to do.

At retailTRUST, our mission is simple: to provide hope, health and happiness for everyone working in retail. It’s what we’ve been doing since 1832: caring for, protecting and improving the lives of UK retail’s most valuable asset – its people.

Four million people work in British retail and, over the last 14 months, we have all come to realise and appreciate the critical role they play in serving this country and keeping our communities fed and connected. But the last year has been really tough for them.

Those working for essential and online retailers – whether on the shopfloor, in our warehouses or driving delivery vans – have truly gone above and beyond to serve the nation, despite facing a significant and saddening increase in incidents of racial, verbal and physical abuse from customers. And those working in non-essential retail have been faced with unsettling uncertainty and financial hardship as they navigated three lockdowns, furloughs, redundancy threats, job losses and store closures.

It’s a story we know all too well at retailTRUST. In the year between 23 March 2020 and 2021, we paid out over £830,000 in non-repayable grants to help people remain in their own homes, feed their families or make essential hospital visits, an increase of 138 per cent year on year.

The pandemic has also taken its toll on colleagues’ mental health and wellbeing resulting in a 144 per cent increase in requests for wellbeing support. In response, we delivered over 6,000 counselling sessions and have organised two Championing the Health of Retail events, which are free for retailers to attend and are designed to help employers understand how workers have been impacted by the pandemic, and how they can continue to support their health and wellbeing as we come out of it and beyond. (Our latest event, headlined by Alastair Campbell and David Potts, can be viewed on demand for free on our site.)

As Morrisons CEO David Potts said: “This has been an exceptionally challenging year for everyone in retail. Health, wellbeing – and especially mental health – must continue to be at the very centre of the retail conversation as we make plans for the route out of Covid and prepare to come back stronger.”

Businesses will be better, more profitable and more successful organisations with a happy, healthy workforce.

Alastair Campbell, Mental Health Advocate

Why is focusing on the hope, health and happiness of our colleagues so important? There are so many reasons: morally and legally employers have a fundamental duty of care for the physical and mental health and wellbeing of their workers, it makes great business sense, and we need to continue attracting fresh, new talent into our sector to remain innovative, competitive, relevant and futureproof.

Creating a culture where employees are listened to, supported and valued leads to better employee morale and engagement, a healthier and more inclusive culture, fewer sick days, better staff retention rates and talent attraction.

The health and wellbeing of the people that work for us is critical to the success of our organisations.

Jo Walmsley, Director of People Capability, John Lewis Partnership

In a study conducted at the University of Warwick, three different styles of experiment were conducted where randomly selected individuals, who were made happier by various interventions, exhibited around 12 per cent higher levels of productivity. The research also discovered that lower happiness levels reduced productivity, leading researchers to conclude there’s a causal link between happiness and performance.

According to the CIPD health and wellbeing at work annual survey, ‘A focus on employee health and wellbeing should be a core element of any HR strategy, and central to the way an organisation operates and fulfils its mission. It should not simply consist of one-off initiatives.’ Despite this, the CIPD’s research showed that only around half of organisations have employee wellbeing on their senior leaders’ agendas. What they should be doing to foster a healthy workplace, they say, is:

  • Creating supportive leadership cultures where senior leaders lead by example
  • Training people managers to confidently point employees in the right direction for support
  • Using occupational health to address long-term absence, promote health and reduce sickness
  • Providing a general environment in which people feel comfortable and safe when talking about health issues.

A Happiness Survey of more than 100,000 UK workers in January 2021 by WorkL (which was founded by former Waitrose boss and John Lewis Partnership deputy chair Lord Mark Price), showed that we – retail – scored an average happiness rating of 66 per cent, compared to tech (the happiest sector to work in, apparently) at 77 per cent. Hackett, Browns and Moonpig topped the retailer chart with a rating of 93 per cent, however, none of our retailers made it into the top 100. In fact, Hackett was placed at 215.

What can we learn from these three retailers and why did they score so highly? Three reasons, claims Lord Price: staff were fairly remunerated, enjoyed strong relationships with managers and had clear career progression mapped out for them by their employers. In other words, they felt valued, listened to, supported and secure.

And this is how we at retailTRUST would like all retail workers to feel, and why we are doing everything we can to support retailers in fostering a workplace culture that supports their teams, particularly from a mental health standpoint. One in four of us will suffer with mental ill health at some point in our lifetime, but every single one of us will experience some sort of setback or difficult life event. At retailTRUST, we are #forthefour and that starts and ends with our mission of providing hope, health and happiness for all in this glorious sector.  

To find out more about retailTRUST and the services they provide to the retail industry, click here.

This article was also published in The Retailer, our quarterly online magazine providing thought-leading insights from BRC experts and Associate Members.