Burnout is an extremely serious problem for companies all over the world today. A recent Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes.
Burnout in employees often manifests in absence from work without warning or explanation; coming to work late and/or leaving early; lower productivity; higher irritability; lack of enthusiasm; and isolation.
Although burnout affects all kinds of companies, those in retail are markedly susceptible to it. This is particularly true in the current situation as the coronavirus pandemic rages on all around the world. While employees in most other sectors have been strictly encouraged to work from home, retail employees have been designated as essential employees who need to keep showing up physically for their jobs.
Why Retail Employees Are Particularly Vulnerable to Burnout
Here are the five top reasons why employee burnout happens often in the retail industry:
1. Longer hours, lower wages.
Most full-time retailers work more than 40 hours a week while getting little to no sleep and having to sacrifice their social life. Also, with many retail companies discarding traditional management models, many retail employees find themselves taking on an increased workload without an increase in wages.
2. Retail jobs are extremely demanding.
Retail workers are on the front lines of customer service and thus have to deal with a wide range of human emotions and overwhelming demands all day, every day. Many people unfortunately don’t respect retail jobs so they tend to mistreat employees and still expect them to take it all and with a smile.
For example, retail workers all across the world have been under intense pressure to keep supermarket shelves well-stocked amid a rash of panic buying from the general public over coronavirus concerns.
3. Management is often insensitive.
Retail employees constantly have to walk on eggshells around their managers in order to keep their jobs. If someone higher up in the hierarchy is having a bad day, then will often take it out on their employees. No wonder retail businesses typically have toxic work environments with low morale.
4. Hard work is both rewarded and punished.
Unlike other industries where hard work gets you higher up the corporate ladder, hard workers in retail are rewarded with more hours and more responsibilities, which means less work-life balance despite more money. Lazy workers get less tasks, as management knows the hard workers can pick up the slack.
5. Recognition is often missing.
Retail workers are usually underappreciated by both their customers and their managers despite how demanding their jobs are—physically, mentally and emotionally. Although most of them love their jobs, burnout inevitably catches up with them due to their efforts not being recognized often enough.
How to Avoid Burnout
Here are the five top ways retail companies can go about tackling burnout in employees:
1. Make sure they are safe.
This is extremely pertinent to the prevailing times as the world deals with COVID-19. Due to having to commute and physically interact with other people on a daily basis, retail workers are particularly vulnerable to catching the coronavirus. This fear greatly increases the chance of employee burnout.
Retail companies should therefore take every measure possible to ensure that their workers are well-protected by equipping them with the necessary safety equipment (masks, gloves, sanitizers, etc.) they need to continue working in these conditions. Governments should also prioritize them for testing.
2. Listen to them.
Retail managers should schedule regular one-on-one meetings with each employee in order to keep an eye out for the early signs of burnout mentioned earlier in this article. They also offer uninterrupted time for the employee to air their grievances so they can be dealt with before they get out of hand.
3. More sustainable workloads.
Retail managers also need to assign their staff workloads that are sustainable in the long term. The industry as whole should do away with “clopening,” a common phenomenon in retail in which employees close a shift and then have to open the following morning (barely eight hours after leaving the store).
4. Give them more control of their goals.
Employees who feel their performance metrics are within their control are 55% less likely to experience burnout on a frequent basis, according to Gallup. On the other hand, employees easily get anxious and demoralized when they feel their work is being evaluated by metrics they can't control.
5. Offer more variety.
Monotony is a key contributing factor to burnout and yet very common in retail, where employees are often tied down to tasks they are good at. Managers should make deliberate efforts to regularly switch up their employees’ duties to keep them from feeling like they are doing the same thing over and over.
6. Show more appreciation.
Employee recognition and appreciation goes a long way in fighting burnout in retail. It can be as simple as buying them breakfast or lunch, giving them early release, or booking them a massage. And in the midst of this COVID-19 situation, it’s clearer than ever that retail workers deserve hazard pay for continuing to work under such unsafe conditions that have pushed everyone else into self-isolation.
The key is to make sure that retail employees feel that their daily efforts are being seen and valued like the essential workers that we have all come to realize they are due to this coronavirus pandemic.
Burnout is something every manager in retail should be on the lookout for. Preventing employee burnout comes down to creating a healthy work environment and better workforce management.
Derek Jones is VP of enterprise strategy (Americas) for Deputy, a global workforce management platform for scheduling, timesheets and communication.