Protecting retail workers during COVID-19

Erik Fjellborg, CEO and Founder of Quinyx 

For many, the government directive to work from home is a blessing, keeping families and communities safe from the spread of COVID-19. But for thousands of retail workers, remote working simply isn’t a possibility. From those supporting us in supermarkets, to warehouse operatives behind the scenes, these people are all conducting vital work that cannot be completed from behind a computer.

Essential workers tirelessly support us every day, and it is of paramount importance that businesses do everything in their power to protect them. But what can employers do to ensure retail employees are kept safe during this unusual period?

New paths to flexibility 

COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of flexible working for keeping employees safe. Retail workers are often told that, due to the hands-on nature of their jobs, it isn’t possible for them to work flexibly. But we think this isn’t the case. If old methods of flexible working aren’t sustainable, retailers should be thinking about new ways of offering flexibility, suitable for their business model.

Firstly, rush hour can be a worry for key workers who are still facing public transport each day. Allowing employees to amend their schedules – starting or finishing earlier – can reduce this concern, helping them avoid busy areas. Alternatively, offering longer shifts in return for more days off, means employees can travel less without having to worry about their next pay cheque.

Secondly, fluctuations in consumer demand may require retail employees to work at different branches. If this is the case, consider supporting them with travel expenses to keep them as safe as possible. These small costs to your business will go a long way for protecting the health and well-being of your staff.

Finally, during uncertain times, it is easy for people to feel more anxious or worried than usual. If employees are facing stress or anxiety, you could look to offer them less customer facing roles such as back office jobs.

Consistent and mutual communication 

Communicating with staff operating on the frontlines is more important than ever. Retailers must keep staff abreast of all issues impacting the business, whether that be new government protocol or company safety procedures. But it is also important that communication work both ways during this time – as retail workers’ roles become increasingly stressful, looking out for their emotional well-being is imperative. This doesn’t need to be difficult. Mobile apps can keep communication flowing both ways, allowing retailers to send small surveys to gain a sense of their team’s morale, while also affording employees instant access to their managers, avoiding timely and often unmonitored emails.

Retail staff are working endlessly to guarantee our safety and satisfaction. Their work is undeniably essential to keep the UK going; therefore, retailers need to be mindful and ensure they are doing everything available to support their staff who cannot work from home. By offering as much flexibility as possible, communicating consistently and checking up on employees, businesses can work to protect the mental and physical health of their team members.

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