Some of Britain’s biggest retailers are turning to AI to improve the mental health of their workforces as employers’ wellbeing budgets come under strain but surging levels of abuse and the high cost-of-living continue to impact people working in the sector.

FatFace and Next are among a handful of leading retail businesses to have developed a new generative AI-powered dashboard with retail industry charity the Retail Trust and its technology partner BJSS, to track staff wellbeing trends and improve the effectiveness of support.

Research by the Retail Trust found 80% of retail workers were experiencing declining wellbeing last year, with a fifth (19%) struggling to meet their monthly outgoings due to rising costs and nearly half (47%) feeling unsafe at work amidst a wave of assaults and retail crime. 

Chris Brook-Carter, chief executive of the Retail Trust, said:

We’re concerned that four years on from the pandemic, wellbeing budgets are coming under strain across the retail industry despite the knock-on effect this will have on staff sickness and retention, because employers can no longer show the direct impact to their bottom line. They need more help to prove the tangible financial value of investing in their people’s mental health for their business and the economy, and to more effectively identify and address the causes of poor wellbeing. We believe this approach could be rolled out across every sector to help improve workplace wellbeing and tackle the UK’s increasingly high sickness absence.

Chris Brook-Carter, chief executive of the Retail Trust

Analysis by Deloitte*, which has been adopted by the Retail Trust for its new ‘happiness dashboard’, estimates that mental ill health currently costs UK employers up to £56 million a year but measures to support staff wellbeing provide a £5.30 return on every £1 spent.

The Retail Trust’s happiness dashboard also uses the Wellby standard, a measure backed by the Government’s Social Impact Task Force, which has found that improving someone’s life satisfaction by just one point on a scale of one to 10 could be worth £13,000 to the economy. This includes the amount saved for the NHS and by reducing sick pay claims. 

Andrew Jurd, head of retail HR at Next, said:

Understanding and supporting the wellbeing needs of our colleagues is an important part of creating a great working environment where colleagues are valued.

Andrew Jurd, head of retail HR at Next

The platform, part of the Retail Trust’s ‘better you’ data and insights offering, identifies data and patterns from colleagues’ interactions with Retail Trust services and wellbeing surveys to provide an overall picture of staff mental health and actionable insights, to address specific issues like stress, financial worries or safety concerns at work, and provide the financial value of wellbeing strategies. Employers can also monitor the effectiveness of initiatives to improve wellbeing in real-time and benchmark their performance against industry standards.

Half of retail managers interviewed for the Retail Trust’s health of retail report last year said staff absences were rising due to mental health issues. The report also uncovered a rise in staff theft due to the cost-of-living crisis, and an increase in the number of suicidal workers.

And research published by the Retail Trust in November revealed attacks on shop staff are worsening amidst rising levels of in-store crime, with two in five (41%) now shouted at, spat on, threatened or hit every week. 66 per cent said the incidents had left them feeling stressed or anxious about going into work and 42 per cent are considering quitting their jobs or leaving retail as a result.

The British Retail Consortium said last month that violence and abuse against shop workers had risen to 1,300 incidents a day, up by 50% year-on-year.

Joanne Swann, Content Manager, WorkWellPro
Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.