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Managing and maintaining Covid-19 safe operations for all customers and employees is stressful. On top of that, managing the panic buying and aggressive customers, increased workloads due to social distancing, and lack of job security are all contributing to mental health issues for retail employees.
Surviving and thriving during these times involves an increased spotlight on managing employee mental health and wellbeing. Here are three elements retail managers should be aware of to support their employees:
1. Understand your legal obligations
WHS legislation also includes psychological safety. Retail employers must proactively address psychological safety in the workplace. This shouldn’t be about managing the legal risk but about creating a productive and healthy work environment where employees will excel.
It is critical to understand your minimum legal obligations for employees with known or suspected mental health conditions. WHS obligations require employers to proactively identify hazards and eliminate risks to psychological safety as reasonably practicable.
When employers neglect psychological safety, it usually results in increased workers’ compensation claims. Psychological injuries are complex to manage, and recovery is typically less likely than physical claims.
Also, employers must not discriminate against an employee or exclude someone from the hiring process because they have a mental illness. An employee’s known mental illness may require the employer to make reasonable adjustments to perform their role. Employers should be guided on what modifications are needed by consulting the employees treating doctors and the employee themselves. It’s a delicate balance, and if you’re unsure how to manage this process, ensure your reach out to a HR expert.
2. Be aware of the mental health warning signs
It’s important to know that employers are not expected to treat or diagnose employees. However, it is a legal obligation to monitor employees’ health, address any concerns that arise and refer to appropriate mental health and wellbeing support services.
Make it a habit to ask your employees how they are doing and if there is anything that is causing increased stress. Sometimes employees may be reluctant to share anything — or they may be unknowingly experiencing mental health issues.
Here are some typical red flags:
● Reduced productivity and performance
● Changes in behaviour and feelings
● Changes in appearance and hygiene
● Easily fatigued
● Substance abuse
● Increased absenteeism and lateness
Recognising these signs can help start a conversation to improve an employee’s wellbeing and ultimately their productivity and performance.
3. Don’t wait for legal issues. Create a healthy culture
Creating a mentally healthy workplace requires a holistic approach. Managers should role model healthy work practices and behaviours. It could even be as small as sharing a little bit about themselves and how they are feeling. Showing vulnerability, especially during this pandemic, helps to build trust.
Given that the holiday season is coming up, many retailers are finding ways to retain employees and prioritise mental health and wellbeing.
For example, American retailer Walmart has urged its employees to take advantage of its PTO (paid time off) plan based on time served. The retailer also made free counselling, webinars and sleep and meditation tools, discounted gym memberships and anonymous support chat rooms for all employees.
Mental health and wellbeing are central to Lululemon’s values. The brand offers its employees mental health first aid training, psychology benefits, an employee assistance program, and paid time off to promote wellbeing.
Kmart is doing its bit to destigmatise mental illness by recently pledging to strengthen its support of charity partners, The Reach Foundation and Smiling Mind as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact young Australians’ mental health and wellbeing.
Other ways retailers can create mentally healthy workplaces
A healthy culture relies on continuous innovation and a proactive approach to recognising and supporting a ‘mental health first culture’. Here are some other ways retailers can help create mentally healthy cultures:
● Implement a mental health and wellbeing policy
● Provide mental health training. We’re all responsible for the safety of each other, so both managers and employees should be trained to identify mental health warning signs
● Managers should receive training on what to do when an employee expresses concerns or mental health issues
● Educate employees on appropriate workplace conduct and behaviour. Sometimes the behaviour may have a different impact than what was intended.