Retailers FatFace and Next turn to AI to help improve staff mental health and prove value of wellbeing strategies


Two of Britain’s biggest retailers – FatFace and Next – 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.

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.

The power of AI

FatFace and Next are among the 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. 

The dashboard also shows each employer exactly how much initiatives to improve mental health are saving their business and the economy, by calculating the financial value of fewer staff calling in sick, working while unwell, quitting their jobs or turning to the NHS as a result.

The platform works by identifying trends around which Retail Trust wellbeing services employees are using to generate recommendations on how to improve engagement, reduce levels of absenteeism or presenteeism, and increase staff retention.

Measurement matters

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.”

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.

Gap analysis and actionable insights

Tracy Gilchrist, resourcing and retention lead at FatFace, said: “One of the insights the platform helped us to identify was that our remote workers had lower scores around feeling anxious and having information shared openly with them.  We found this useful as we were then directed to Retail Trust content that we were able to share with these colleagues, and it also meant we took time as a business to discuss how we communicate important messages so remote workers felt included.”

Andrew Jurd, head of retail HR at Next, said: “Working with the Retail Trust means we not only gain a better understanding of how our teams are feeling, but through their interaction with the Retail Trust’s knowledge, experience and resources, we can gain actionable insights into the wellbeing needs of the amazing people who work for us, while supporting them along the way.”

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.

Kerry Lee, client principal for retail at the Retail Trust’s technology partner BJSS, said: “The platform helps small, medium, and large companies realise that investing in welfare initiatives isn’t just nice for the workforce but has a real positive impact on financial performance. We hope it encourages retailers to do more to continually improve outcomes for staff, which is what the Retail Trust is all about.”

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