Thinking Ahead

RETAIL LABOR STRESSHow retailers can address and alleviate employee stressors by getting creative with their benefits. By Bianca Herron

As more industries begin to take a more holistic approach to employee benefits, they are looking for offerings that solve the causes of employee stress, not just the effects.

In the retail industry, one of the biggest stressors for low wage earners is transportation, according to Edu(k)ate CEO Chris Whitlow. He adds that with employee financial wellness programs retailers can help solve this challenge.

“In addition to offering personalized resources to help employees take control of their finances, such programs can also drive home the importance of creating an in-case-of-emergency fund that ensures they’re never forced to miss work because they can’t afford to get there,” Whitlow explains.  

Financial wellness among retail employees is extremely important because it allows employees to take control over their overall financial journey, instead of simply planning for retirement, Whitlow adds.

“Financial stress has a huge impact on the overall productivity, focus and feelings of employees,” he says. “Employees who are stressed lose their ability to be present in the workplace. By offering financial wellness benefits, retailers can build a culture of healthy employees who enjoy coming to work, and providing genuine and exceptional service to customers.”

Digging Deeper

Common stressors affecting retail employees not only include transportation, but also access to emergency funds and credit, housing and childcare. “Retail employees must solve the same problems as employees in different industries nationwide, but they often do so on a smaller budget,” he says. “Therefore, they are less likely to have a reserve fund in case of emergencies.”

Without this reserve, employees that are at risk for financial stress continue a vicious cycle that leads to even more stress, Whitlow notes.

“For example, a retail employee may be driving to work one day when their car breaks down” he says. “If the employee does not have an emergency fund already in place to fix the car or find alternative modes of transport, they will not be able to work that day. And if they don’t go to work, they have even less money to pay their bills.”

Employers often don’t realize that they also suffer when their employees suffer, Whitlow says. However, there are four things retail employers can do to alleviate their employees’ stress. “First, retailers need to understand how to engage their employees,” Whitlow explains. “To do this, they should look at employee demographics and determine how their employees like to engage.”

Secondly, retailers need to deliver relevant learning opportunities and guidance to employees. “This guidance needs to be timely and targeted,” Whitlow says. “For example, many retail employees don’t want to think about saving for retirement until they’ve paid down their student loans.”

Finally, retailers should connect their employees with benefits in the way they are used to connecting, Whitlow notes. “An in-person meeting once a year during open enrollment isn’t usually enough to spark benefit engagement all year long, so retailers need to be making an active effort to constantly connect employees to their benefits,” he says.

Additionally, it is essential that retailers create a culture around “wellbeing and mindfulness of finances.” “Implementing this change also benefits employers’ bottom lines because employees are happy and confident in a culture that supports and understands them, and their individual needs and concerns,” Whitlow explains.

Ultimately, retail employees are typically less likely to participate in their benefits, according to Whitlow, so it’s up to retailers to find ways to engage them. “Financial wellness is especially important in service-based industries like retail because employees aren’t typical white-collar workers with access to computers and unbiased financial advice,” he says.

“Employers who stand out in this industry are the ones providing good benefits and a nurturing culture,” Whitlow concludes. “Retailers can’t give the best experience to a customer until they’ve given it to their employees first.”

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