17 Mar 2022

Wellbeing in the Workplace

Wellbeing in the Workplace

Wellbeing in the workplace: how can we encourage supportive leadership cultures in retail?

In a report led by the Retail Trust in May 2021, it was revealed that 91 per cent of all line managers had seen an upward trend in mental health issues. With the perfect storm of furlough, increased inflation and digital retail, workers are feeling the pressure.

Thankfully, the national conversation is turning toward wellbeing in the workplace. Like many work culture initiatives, actions need to come from the top. The Retail Trust’s report also revealed that just 28 per cent of workers felt they could discuss their problems with their line managers.

Retail Trust CEO Chris Brook-Carter notes that line managers themselves were also facing problems. He says: “Our survey highlighted two key facts. Line managers are facing the biggest pressures, and soft skills are more important than ever.”

With added stress from head offices, as well as hard performance metrics, line managers are feeling the pressure from both directions. This calls for a more compassionate leadership style. Managers should consider the position junior staff members are in, but also encourage head offices to prioritise mental health.

Compassionate leadership

So, what does the Retail Trust CEO recommend for leaders as we navigate our way through a pandemic? “Retail is ideal for entrepreneurial types and those used to working at pace. But right now we need to put the spotlight on soft skills.

“The ability to listen and understand mental health issues is a learnt skill. There’s no silver bullet to improve mental health in the workplace, but with training, line managers can develop these soft skills.”

Brook-Carter notes one positive trend in retail at the moment: our willingness to talk about mental health. Today, organisations are promoting a happy workforce. They understand how much it contributes to long-term success, from staff retention to better productivity.

How can we train leaders to be more compassionate in the workplace?

Of course, it’s essential to talk about mental health in the workplace. But Brook-Carter warns that we cannot expect line managers to become professionals overnight. “There should be absolutely no expectation for line managers to diagnose. In fact, this is exactly what we’re against at the Retail Trust. Another issue that came up in our survey was an increase in mental health misdiagnoses.”

Interestingly, the Retail Trust is also against ‘mental health first aiders’ or ‘champions’ in the workplace. Brook-Carter warns that this creates risk for too many people to intervene. Rather, the retail space should offer signposting for where workers can get help.

This can start anywhere from one-to-ones to linking workers to resources such as mental health charities. Most importantly, line managers’ intervention should be measurable. We can measure the impact of our mental health initiatives by looking at sick days, employee engagement surveys and even turnover.

Creating an inclusive culture

Another issue that must not be overlooked is to be more inclusive. While broader mental health issues may affect all retail workers, others are more specific – such as gender fluidity or ageism. Brook-Carter notes the prevalence of women in the retail sector reaching the average age for menopause.

“It’s really important to be cognizant of issues such as this. We should break the stigma and arm people with the tools to make the right decisions.” Once again, Brook-Carter notes the importance of signposting. Rather than diagnosing, managers should offer staff the right options to get help.

Protecting your teams in 2022

The pressure may be on for retail right now, but with the right conversations, staff teams can improve their mental health in the long term. You can encourage the right choices in the workplace by:

  • Acknowledging the line manager’s role to communicate policies both upstream and downstream
  • Encouraging a culture of conversation and discussing ‘taboo subjects’
  • Educating yourself on resources to help people, such as mental health charities
  • Recognising the lesser-known issues such as menopause awareness.

Watch Chris Brook-Carter’s talk on the Retail Trust at Autumn Fair here.

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