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Employee Mental Health Initiatives Must Go Far Beyond Breakroom Pizza This Holiday Season

On top of an already difficult year battling COVID-19 restrictions, businesses across all industries now face another growing threat – “The Great Resignation.”


As pandemic life recedes, millions of workers, especially those in retail and essential industries, are leaving their jobs in search of more money, more flexibility and more happiness.


It’s no secret that employees in the retail industry are experiencing high levels of mental and physical exhaustion due to the demands brought on by COVID-19.


Retailers remained open throughout the pandemic, and many employees have continued working part-time and without insurance benefits, which can ultimately lead to stress and negatively impact their mental health.


With retailers gearing up for the busy holiday season, it’s important for businesses to prepare now to meet the mental health needs of employees.


Managers can start by communicating policies, looking for the warning signs and implementing employee wellness initiatives that reduce uncertainty and anxiety.


Communicate company policies

 Businesses can no longer wait for employees to come to them about mental health concerns – managers must take the reins. Many retailers have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) available to staff that includes free confidential counseling benefits and education on self-care during stressful times.


While these programs were often used to help employees for post-robbery counseling, many have also found these sessions useful to discuss COVID-related stress that many are feeling after the past year.


Managers should inquire with HR departments to learn more about these benefits and communicate policies with employees before they actively seek out solutions. If there is an EAP available for employees to use, post a flyer about this benefit in the break room so employees can access it readily if needed.


It should also be expected that employees might need to take an occasional unplanned day or afternoon to themselves to relax and reset from ongoing pandemic-related stress.


This might become more prevalent around the holidays with the influx of shoppers who are in need of holiday gifts. Managers should treat these requests as any other unplanned absence and examine them on an individual basis.


Look for the warning signs

 Everyone reacts to stress differently—both physically and mentally. Floor supervisors and managers must learn signs of severe stress and monitor employees to ensure they are in a good headspace.


Some indications that an employee feels overwhelmed or stressed are frequent call-offs, tardiness, altercations with customers, forgetfulness, crying and distraction.


If there are signs of severe stress in an employee, managers should have open conversations about best practices to relieve stress – suggesting that an employee switch shifts to take some time off is a great place to start.


Rollout employee mental health initiatives

 When it comes to retail employees, predictability in scheduling is necessary to reduce work-related anxieties. It goes a long way with your staff when employers can promise a set number of hours per week and prioritize making schedules in advance.


Many businesses currently make schedules on a week-to-week basis, but many states and municipalities are considering predictive scheduling laws that would require schedules be made available to employees 14 to 21 days in advance.


Currently, only Oregon and several major cities have passed predictive scheduling laws, but it’s likely this will soon become the norm in an effort to minimize uncertainty and unpredictability for employees. Getting rid of “on-call” shifts or providing financial incentives for coming in last minute can also help foster a better culture for retail employees.


Mental health days should be treated the same as any other sick day – if you don’t ask for a doctor’s note for a “stomach bug,” don’t require one for a mental health day. It’s important to create a safe space for employees to feel supported when calling off due to mental health reasons.


Company culture is also a huge part of employee wellbeing—especially when it comes to mental health during peak shopping season. Managers should strongly enforce breaks and provide a space for employees to take them. Holiday rushes can be stressful, but all employees need time to tune out and refresh during the workday.


If employees have worked in retail for more than a few months, they have experienced the hardest points of COVID-19’s impact on the retail sector and might be feeling tired.


To show employee appreciation, celebrating achievements or meeting sales goals goes a long way—whether giving a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant or allowing them to take a paid afternoon off from their shift.


Create a safe environment for shoppers and employees

Despite seeming around the corner, a lot can change for retailers between now and the holiday rush. As COVID-19 variants spread, clearly communicating policies and creating a safe environment for both shoppers and employees will be key to surviving the holiday season.


If your store has a face mask policy, make sure that is clearly posted before the entrance, as well as on your website and social media pages, so there is no confusion for shoppers.


It’s also important to get creative during this time—maybe there is an elf waiting to greet customers and hand out free masks or an inflatable Santa Claus wearing a mask. These little reminders can go a long way when it comes to enforcing your store’s policies.


If retailers want to prevent holiday stress and avoid employees quitting during the holiday rush, it’s important to start preparing now to prioritize mental health needs. Free pizza in the breakroom was once considered a perk, but in today’s environment, this is just the bare minimum.


Employees across all industries are feeling stressed and anxious from COVID-19, especially those in retail working long hours on the floor. Retailers can use these helpful tips to take action and foster a more supportive culture that puts employee mental health front and center.



Mark Debus

As a clinical behavioral health specialist since 2015, Mark has a dual role at Sedgwick. He works as a consultant to claims examiners on challenging or psychiatric claims. Through careful assessment, coaching and advocacy, Mark helps injured workers overcome barriers to treatment and improve motivation for a successful return to work.

Prior to his role at Sedgwick, he worked as an employee assistance program (EAP) counselor, a trauma specialist, and as a care consultant for the Alzheimer’s Association. He is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Mark graduated with a bachelor of arts in psychology and communications (BA) from Marquette University and received a master of social work (MSW) from the University of California at Berkeley.