From Shelves to Shadows: Understanding Mental Well-being in UK Retail


The retail sector plays a key role in the UK economy providing employment opportunities for a large number of individuals nationwide. Being on the frontline, ensure the sector has its share of challenges that can impact the health and overall well being of its workforce. Issues such as working hours, a high pressure work environment and lower wages have raised concerns about the mental well being of retail employees. 

Recent reports indicate an increase in stress levels, anxiety disorders and depression among these workers. The Retail Trust report reveals that eight out of ten retail employees in the UK have experienced a deterioration in their well being due to the strains associated with working in stores. It is crucial to address these concerning trends and engage in discussions regarding health within the context of the industry. This will help us gain insights into the challenges faced by these workers and explore means to provide them with support. We unpack all this over the next 4 minutes in this article.

Common Stressors and Challenges Faced by Retail Workers

Distilled down we have found 4 key stressors that impact retail workers mental wellbeing:

  1. Extended work hours; Retail staff often find themselves working shifts that include weekends and holidays leading to exhaustion, burnout and difficulties balancing work with life.
  1. Interacting with customers; Retail employees often find themselves at the forefront of customer interactions, which can be demanding and emotionally draining. Dealing with customers handling complaints and meeting customer expectations can pose challenges.
  2. Pressured work environment; Retail employees often face pressure to achieve sales targets, manage inventory and oversee store operations. This can result in stress and anxiety during peak times.
  3. Compensation concerns; Retail employees are frequently compensated at or slightly above minimum wage, which can lead to strain and uncertainty.

These stressors have long term effects on health. Chronic stress can lead to emotional exhaustion, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Moreover retail employees may experience burnout—a state of physical and mental exhaustion caused by stress—which can result in decreased job satisfaction, reduced productivity and increased absenteeism.


Prevalence of Mental Wellbeing Issues in Retail

The prevalence of health problems in the sector is a significant concern in the UK as indicated by recent studies. A comprehensive study conducted by the mental health charity Mind revealed that half of workers have faced challenges with their well being in their current retail jobs. Additionally a survey conducted by the Retail Trust among 1,300 employees found that 91% of line managers have observed an increase in mental health issues among their staff members. Another recent survey demonstrated that 84% of staff members reported impacts on their mental health due to the ongoing pandemic. The Retail Trusts report also shed light on concerning incidents such as employee theft and instances of customers both of which contribute to deteriorating well being and even cases of suicidal thoughts among workers.

When compared with industries or sectors these figures indicate a prevalence of mental health concerns within the retail sector. For instance a survey carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) revealed that 37% of employees across industries reported experiencing poor mental health, which is lower than the 50% reported within the retail industry. Furthermore according to the CIPD survey findings it was noted that the retail industry has a higher number (41%) of employees who feel overwhelmed and excessively pressured at work when compared to all other industries combined (29%).

These statistics underscore a need for action to prioritise and support the health and overall well being of individuals working in the UKs retail sector.

We’ve linked all the reports at the bottom of this article.


Impact on Physical Health of Retail Workers

Furthermore the effects of mental health extend to the well being of retail workers in the UK. Here are several ways in which it can affect their health;

  1. Sleep difficulties; Mental health disorders like anxiety and depression often make it challenging to get sleep. Insomnia becomes a problem that leads to fatigue reduced concentration levels. Decreased overall productivity.
  2. Fatigue; Continuous stress and burnout contribute to both emotional exhaustion resulting in fatigue levels along with reduced energy.
  3. Greater susceptibility to illness; Chronic stress weakens the systems defences making retail workers more prone to illnesses and infections.
  4. Physical symptoms; Mental health disorders can also lead to manifestations, like headaches, muscle tension and digestive issues.

These physical health concerns can exacerbate health problems creating a cycle of ill health and diminished well being. It’s crucial to address health challenges among workers to prevent physical ailments and enhance overall wellness.

Barrier to Retail Workers Seeking Help

There are two primary barriers, organisational and cultural, that hinder retail workers in the UK from seeking assistance for their mental health concerns. 

Organisational barriers;

  1. Access to health support; Many retail employees lack the availability of employer provided mental health assistance making it challenging for them to seek help.
  2. Stigma surrounding health; Some individuals working in the sector may feel ashamed or embarrassed when considering reaching out for support due to societal stigmatisation of mental illness.
  3. Financial constraints; Retail workers might face limitations that prevent them from accessing mental health services like therapy or counselling.

Cultural barriers;

  1. Concerns about discrimination; Retail employees may fear discrimination or negative consequences, from their employer or colleagues if they disclose their health issues.
  1. Lack of awareness; Some employees in the industry may not be fully aware of the mental health resources or may struggle to find ways to access them.
  2. Cultural beliefs; Cultural attitudes and beliefs regarding health can also serve as obstacles when seeking help. For instance certain cultures might perceive illness as a sign of weakness or personal failure.

To overcome these barriers employers can take measures to offer health support, educate their workforce about mental well being and foster an environment that promotes openness and acceptance regarding mental health concerns. 

Retail workers themselves can also take steps to manage stress levels by taking breaks practising mindfulness techniques and seeking support from colleagues or professional mental health providers. By collaborating both employers and employees can create a work environment that is more supportive for everyone involved.

So let’s take a look at what is available.

Initiatives and Policies for Retail Workers

The retail industry acknowledges the significance of prioritising health and has implemented various initiatives, programmes and policies aimed at supporting the well being of retail workers. Here are a few examples;

  1. Retail Trust; The Retail Trust is an organisation operating in the UK that offers support and financial assistance specifically tailored for retail workers. They provide a helpline through which retail employees can access guidance on health matters along with support.They also host events and workshops to raise awareness about health and offer resources to support the well being of workers.
  2. Health platforms; Some retailers have teamed up with platforms dedicated to health to provide assistance to their employees. For instance Walgreens, Lululemon and Brooks Brothers have partnered a health platform to give their employees access to health resources and support.
  3. Flexible work hours; Some retailers have implemented schedules to help their employees achieve a work life balance and reduce stress.
  4. Mental health training; Certain retailers have provided training on health for both managers and employees in order to help them identify and respond to health issues in the workplace.
  5. Gallantium; we researched this article because we pride ourselves on providing education and awareness content that helps employers to manage mental health conditions in retail in a preventative focused way. Our unique approach involves delivering a monthly support package that focuses on a new workplace mental health topic on the first day of each month that will support your retail leaders and workers. We create a comprehensive understanding of the topic through featured presentations, dramatised case studies, podcasts, written support guides, top support tips videos, and exclusive articles.

More on Gallantium

Our resources are designed to drive knowledge transfer and behavioural change. Our team of experts works in the field of workplace mental health and helps to create our content. The content has been created to be engaging and accessible for employees, and to suit a range of different learning styles. We fervently believe in providing practical solutions to help employers manage mental wellbeing issues before they become unmanageable.

Our rolling monthly delivery approach helps employers to demonstrate care and support for good mental health management at all times. It keeps mental health at the top of the agenda, and managers and employees receive the support and knowledge needed to create a permanently safe and healthy workplace environment.


The retail industry plays a significant role in the UKs economy by employing a number of people nationwide. However it is important to acknowledge that this industry is also associated with challenges such as long working hours, high pressure environments and low wages—factors that can profoundly impact the well being of workers.

Research has indicated that mental health concerns are prevalent among individuals working in the sector in the UK. All are facing difficulties due to job related stressors and challenges. These mental health issues can have repercussions, such as sleep problems, fatigue and being more susceptible to illnesses. In response to this the retail industry has introduced a range of initiatives, programs and policies aimed at supporting the well being of its workforce. 

While it may be challenging to gauge their effectiveness, providing assistance and resources for health can enhance employee well being and boost productivity. It is crucial for retailers to continuously prioritise health and well being within the workplace while regularly assessing the impact of their initiatives.




























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Nadun Baduge
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