‘Tis the season to respect and support Australia’s retail employees

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Christmas retail workers facing higher level of aggression due to COVID-19

SYDNEY 23 December 2021 - As we enter peak Christmas purchasing season, wellbeing and safety company Sonder highlights the need to recognise the efforts of retail workers and support them appropriately. After what has been another difficult year for many due to COVID-19 lockdowns, frontline retail workers are likely to experience an even greater increase in aggressive behaviour, harassment and abuse than previous years.

As we entered peak Christmas purchasing season, wellbeing and safety company Sonder highlights the need to recognise the efforts of retail workers and support them appropriately. After what has been another difficult year for many due to COVID-19 lockdowns, frontline retail workers are likely to experience an even greater increase in aggressive behaviour, harassment and abuse than in previous years.

Sonder provides health, wellbeing and safety support to some of Australia’s largest retail stores, including Woolworths and Big W and sees firsthand the type of treatment retail workers are facing. “It’s unfortunate that retail employees are feeling and accepting that increased aggressiveness is ‘just part of the job.’” Says XXX for Sonder. “The retail sector often experiences an increase of inappropriate behaviour during the Christmas and New Year period and this is expected to be higher this year due to community anxiety and anger surrounding COVID restrictions and health orders.”

A survey from peak union, Shop, Distributive and Allied Employee Association (SDA), found that more than 88% of retail employees have experienced abuse in the past 12 months.

“This number unfortunately does not shock us, as we receive requests for assistance directly from retail staff far too often. This has included acts of physical and verbal abuse and sexual harassment.” Says XXX

“Unfortunately, we have started to see an increase of aggressive behaviour regarding requests to customers that they adhere to COVID-19 restrictions, such as the wearing of face masks and confirmation of vaccination status. We have had reports from clients that they are facing daily abuse, and this is resulting in increased anxiety and fear to perform their role.”

Sonder members can reach out to the company through a 24/7 mobile app, connecting with medical professionals who are able to triage the situation and support individuals or managers to gain access to the support they need. In some instances, Sonder’s responder network has been dispatched to retail stores to provide immediate, on-site assistance.

“We have had instances of severe violence requiring immediate onsite support to our clients. After we dispatch our responders, they work with individuals and teams to ensure our members are treated in the immediate sense and provided with ongoing support for the days, weeks and months to come.”

A recent Australian National University report has highlighted that retail employees are among the most affected by mental health and wellbeing issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It notes that this is further exacerbated by the representation of women, young people and other marginalised groups within the sector, who reported a decrease in the quality of interactions with customers during the pandemic and were also feeling a fair degree of stress enforcing safety compliance.

“Just like our law enforcement and health officials, retail staff are being asked to enforce health orders across Australia and we have to appreciate the additional effort they are making to keep the community safe. They are going above and beyond and they deserve thanks, not abuse.”
 

- Ends –

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