A new study has emerged claiming that as many as 68% of hospitality and retail staff reported poor mental health in 2020, amid an extremely testing year for the embattled industries.
The numbers come from Super Friend, who published their ‘Spotlight on the Retail Industry’ report detailing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the hospitality and retail industries.
The retail and hospitality industries were amongst the worst hit in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic becoming a global health crisis, with government restrictions impacting restaurant and cafe capacity, with retail centres reporting steep drops in foot traffic.
The COVID-19 restrictions no doubt had an impact on the respondents of Super Friend’s survey, with 68% of hospitality and retail staff reporting poor mental health for the year of 2020.
Of this subset of Australian employees, the findings of the survey say that casual employees were most likely to have reported poor mental health, with nearly 70% of respondents saying they suffered a mental condition this year.
Authors of the report write that “2 in 3 (66.4%) retail workers have experienced a mental health condition; the second-highest proportion of any industry behind the hard-hit accommodation of and food services industry (68.1%). This includes workers who self-reported a mental condition, and those who experienced anxiety or depression but did not classify it as a mental health condition.”
Amongst its key findings is the fact that “retail jobs have become more stressful than ever with 21.0% finding their jobs highly stressful; Victorian retail jobs have been the most stressful (26.6%).
This is in addition to the fact that the size of the retailer is said to have a direct correlation on the mental health of its employees, due to the confidence they have in their employer to be able to push through the economic uncertainty of a pandemic.
The levels of workplace stress and work-related mental illnesses was even worse for the hospitality industry, according to authors of the report.
One in four retail workers said that they were looking for other employment opportunities after a tough year for their mental health.
The authors of the report point to the increased rate of harassment, both verbal and physical abuse that employees have received throughout the year of 2020 as a result of the government-imposed restrictions. The report says that retail and hospitality employees were the most likely to be targeted by this abuse, as the public often rejected the premise and efficacy of the COVID-19 restrictions, and vented their frustrations with the employees.
The authors of the report say this resulted in the fact that “retail jobs have become more stressful than ever before, with 21.3% finding their jobs highly stressful (up 4.8% from 2019). In fact, yearly 1 in 4 (23.4) retail workers considered a career change in a different industry once the pandemic emerged.”
One of the survey’s participants told the authors that “it’s not always the management or colleagues that contribute to real workers’ mental health issues. It needs to be addressed more at a public level as a lot of the time retail workers feel bullied/victimized/terrified due to the actions of customers, especially over things that are beyond the employees’ or even the company’s control.”
Interestingly, the level of reported stress and mental illnesses was higher among smaller retailers and restaurants. The report says that 19.3% of employees working at retailers with at least 5,000 workers reported mental illness, while small retailers were reporting mental illness in anywhere between 31.8%-38% of employees.
The authors say that this is largely due to the fact that employees have far more confidence in a large employer with the resources to weather an economic storm like the pandemic. This translated to more than 41% of those working for a large retailer saying they were confident about their employer’s ability to push through the COVID-19 pandemic, while just 15.3% working for smaller organisations responded with confidence.
The authors say, however, that “large retailers fall short of small retailers when it comes to providing mentally healthy leadership (with a leadership index score of 60.1 vs 67.0 for small retailers with less than 20 workers.”