A quarter of retail workers face customer abuse

Thousands of retail workers will face violence, verbal abuse and bullying from customers on a daily basis throughout this festive season, according to a new report. 

7 December 2021

Over the past 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 past 12 months, and 61% of those believe their current workplace caused it or made it worse. 

Margo Lydon, SuperFriend CEO, said the findings were a wake-up call for all of us as customers, as well as the retail sector. She explained how cultivating a mentally healthy workplace was 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,” said Ms Lydon.

“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.”

Insights from SuperFriend’s Sandra Surace, workplace mental health and wellbeing consultant, are even more sobering. In the survey, retail workers said they were “burnt out, exhausted and dread every shift” and that “some days it doesn’t seem worth the tears”. 

Other retail workers said customers could be so nasty and did not care about how they treated workers, and that these encounters affected their sleep, relationships and ability to function.

“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,” Ms Surace said. 

She 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.

Ms Surace said organisations would reap the benefits from a thriving workforce only when they evolved and adapted their practices and policies to best support their workers and provided opportunities to learn strategies on how to deal with customer interactions. This in turn would help improve staff retention and productivity, which had become even more essential in a talent shortage market.

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