More than half of retail staff (52%) say the rising cost-of-living is impacting their mental health, according to a new report by industry charity the Retail Trust.

More than 1,500 people who work in retail were surveyed for the ‘Health of retail’ report, which found:

  • Of the nine in ten who say they are affected by the cost-of-living crisis, 21% are struggling to meet their monthly outgoings;
  • That 36% say financial pressures are worsening their already poor mental health;
  • That 80% report experiencing deteriorating mental health overall.

The Retail Trust also asked a range of household name retailers what they are doing to help people through the cost-of-living crisis and found:

  • One-third (33%) have issued pay rises that match or exceed rising inflation;
  • half (50%) provide other forms of financial assistance, such as help to pay bills, salary advances and interest-free loans;
  • three quarters (75%) offer financial education or money management advice.

One retailer reported an increase in theft by staff due to financial strain, saying: “People are desperate. As a wellbeing team, we call them before and after their disciplinary. Everyone is saying, ‘this isn’t me, I was desperate.’

The wellbeing manager at a well-known electrical chain added that it felt impossible to keep up with rising costs: “The wages of our hourly-paid colleagues have increased by 21% over three years, but we can’t do it at the same pace as inflation. The challenge is that it’s never seen as enough.”

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Another people director at a leading fashion retailer said: “Despite the support we’ve provided, such as pay rises, additional funding – people are still struggling.”

Rise in suicidal retail workers

Half of the retail managers said there had also been a rise in staff absences in the last year due to mental health issues.

One HR leader told the Retail Trust she had dealt with more suicidal staff in the past 12 months than at any other point in her entire career: “It’s related to the financial landscape, loneliness, domestic abuse, housing, and volatile relationships. There are more severely impacted people in the last couple of years.”

A beauty retailer added: “We are seeing it in mental health absences. People who have been in the team for seven or eight years are suddenly being signed off.”

Experiences of abuse by the public

While the rising cost of living was found to be the biggest contributing factor to the deterioration in retail workers’ mental wellbeing, there was also a rise in the number of shop workers, delivery drivers and employers blaming increasing abuse from the public.

“There’s been a shift in how customers feel they can talk to and treat people,” said a fashion retailer. “We’ve had incident after incident, to the point that we now have a taskforce that meets weekly for strategies, ideas and information gathering to protect staff. We’ve never had so many instances of verbal, physical and sexual assault.”

The HR director of another fashion retailer added: “We’ve had someone held up at gunpoint in store and gang members following each other into the changing rooms with a machete. It affects certain areas more than others, but it does appear to have got worse.”

Retail Trust chief executive Chris Brook-Carter commented: “The retail industry is the UK’s biggest employer outside of the public sector and one with a workforce whose wages are skewed to the lower end of the scale, making the cost-of-living crisis more acutely felt.

“We must work together to change this by raising awareness of where to get help, training managers to support their teams and giving people the tools to support themselves. Above all, we must listen.”