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Frontline Retail Employees: You’re Not Alone This Holiday Season

Andrew Smith HeadshotWorking retail during the holidays used to cause great stress to Andrew Smith. The increase in customer stress and traffic flow on the sales floor compounded operational difficulties creating a less than stable environment.

“You move through more stock than any other time of year, which increases every element of work as a retailer,” said Smith, co-founder of the retail innovation consultancy, ThinkUncommon. The group helps retailers and their partners make effective, needed changes in a timely manner. “It’s pure chaos: A [clothes] rack goes down, a toilet leaks, a child vomits in the same aisle the clothes rack went down, you have a line out the door. There are usually no breaks, and you barely have time to grab a drink of water.”

Smith added that on top of all those stressors for retail employees, customers are equally at their wits end with the holidays. It’s common to hear customers tell retail employees how “they ruined the holidays” or make passive-aggressive, rude remarks.

In short, the holidays wreak havoc on the mental wellbeing of retail employees. In Smith’s experience, he said the main thing that helps get employees through the chaotic holiday season is their team. He has worked in retail for more than 20 years, starting on the shop floor and then proceeding to take on many roles from workforce planning to technology before leading retail operations.

“After work, you get home utterly spent, and you still have regular life to deal with,” he said. “The thing that gets you through is your team. There is no work family like a retail store family. The bond that comes from the experiences you go through is unbreakable. ” Part of being on a strong team at work is noticing when others may need help.

You can support and encourage co-workers this holiday season.

  • Have regular check-in conversations with coworkers. Getting acquainted with fellow coworkers builds trust and credibility. When the going gets tough during a holiday rush, you’ll both feel better about braving it together.
  • Share information about available wellness resources. Whether it’s a new book, podcast, or support group, share information about resources to expand upon your own wellbeing toolbox.
  • Talk to coworkers about the benefits of self-care.
  • Use Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Action Plan (ALGEE). MHFA teaches a five-step action plan to help you respond to a person facing a mental health challenge. It includes approaching, listening nonjudgmentally, giving reassurance and information, encouraging appropriate support and self-help.

Smith also emphasized that prioritizing your mental health during the holidays has never been more important. And the experience of it all can be valuable if balanced with self-care. “The holiday season is intense for anyone in retail, especially for leaders, but you go through it, and you learn incredible skills,” he said.

Here are some ways you can bolster your personal mental health this holiday season.

  • Commit to your nutrition before, during and after work. A giant-sized energy drink may get you through a long shift, but the crash afterwards will take a toll on your body and mind. While we know caffeine is a necessity for most – it is the holidays after all – opt for a smaller size and refrain from drinking caffeine within six hours of sleep.
  • Make the most of your breaks. While the breakroom is an option, it can still make a person feel confined and trapped. If possible, step outside the store during breaks for a change of sound and scenery.
  • Wear the right shoes. Are your feet killing you every shift? Make a point to wear practical, comfortable shoes to carry you through the workday.
  • Invest in headphones. Are you tired of listening to the same holiday soundtrack running on repeat during your shift? During your break, listen to music, a podcast or anything to give your ears and mind a break.
  • Talk with your manager. If you’re struggling with your mental health at work, let your manager know. This may mean asking for clarification on policies and procedures; requesting emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion; or asking your manager to model healthy work coping strategies.

You are not alone this holiday season. There are programs that can help retailers with employee mental health such as MHFA at Work for Retail. Get your boss on board with this template, which provides a few talking points to get started.

MHFA is an evidence-based training program that teaches people how to look for the signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges. Knowing how to recognize that someone may need help – and learning how to approach and respond – can be a useful skill before the holidays hit.

#BeTheDifference to yourself and fellow retail workers. Give the greatest gift of all: mental health support!

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