Accounting for one third of all consumer spending in the UK, retail touches the lives of many; customers, stakeholders and not least the people it employs. With this reach, the sector has the potential to lead the way when it comes to influencing how British business and industry in general looks after its people.
Chris Brook-Carter is the new CEO of retailTRUST – the charity that offers emotional, physical, vocational and financial wellbeing support to all involved with retail and the supporting service industries.
In this interview, Chris shares insights into the pandemic pressures experienced by the retail sector and the collective power of the sector to make a difference to mental health and wellbeing.
The retail rollercoaster
The charity retailTRUST is well placed to give a bird’s eye view of the sector. It works with everyone from traditional high street retailers through to upcoming e-commerce brands, carriers that ensure e-commerce deliveries, food and beverage organisations and even hospitality.
Whilst some aspects of retail are booming, others have been hit hard by the pandemic. High streets in particular have been impacted by government-enforced shutdowns. On the other hand, pockets of the sector are doing well, including specialist retailers supplying pet care products, DIY, electronics, furniture and anyone involved in homeware.
Despite this disparity, Chris explained that there has been an increase in the financial, emotional and physical pressures on everyone working in the sector.
He said: “125,000 retail workers have already sadly lost their jobs. Many others are facing uncertainty and social disconnection”. Those on the frontline may be more secure but are dealing with the anxieties associated with increased workloads, implementing evolving government guidance, as well as fear of catching the virus.
Working with almost 200 retailers across the country, since the beginning of the pandemic in March, retailTRUST has seen a 404% increase in demand for its services. It has conducted 6,000 counselling sessions and distributed around half a million pounds in financial aid.
Countdown to Christmas
Chris sees no end in sight to the huge increase in pressure on the Trust’s services.
He said: “Christmas is undoubtedly going to be super tough. E-commerce is going to take a market share that’s not been seen before. The pressure on supply chains, distribution companies and warehouses over the next 12 weeks is going to be incredibly hard”.
With this and the other ongoing pressures the sector faces in mind, retailTRUST is working harder than ever to prevent an incoming mental health storm. Chris said: “Potentially this could hit anyone. But we believe we can avoid this if we take proactive action. If we look after ourselves and look after one another, it is possible to weather this”.
Lessons from the leaders
retailTRUST was founded in 1832 by pioneering individuals. They recognised that the economic success of the sector was intrinsically linked to the health and happiness of its workforce.
Fast forward nearly 200 years and Chris believes that even before COVID-19 hit, we were seeing how far-sighted this vision was. There was a move towards businesses needing to understand the role they played in society and how they look after the people that they touch. Customers were already searching out the brands that demonstrated they understood this.
For example, In a B Lab and Ella’s Kitchen survey, UK B Corp certified businesses, such as Unilever and Danone, who achieve at least a minimum score against a set of social and environment standards, reported an average growth rate higher than the national average .
Chris explained: “COVID hit and that trend exploded for all the right reasons. Working right across the retail value chain, the Trust now has a once in a generation opportunity to take hold of the narrative and make sure that it acts as a torch bearer”.
As part of this, retailTRUST launched its #forthefour campaign in October. This recognises that while one in four adults in the UK will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime, the Trust believes it should be there #forthefour in four colleagues who will experience a setback or life event.
The campaign’s programme of content encourages activity and conversation about health and wellbeing in the retail industry. This included a week of virtual conference sessions that attracted 1500 attendees from 220 retail companies. Sessions related to emotional, physical, vocational and financial wellbeing are available to watch free of charge on-demand here.
Chris has lived and breathed retail for most of his career. He’s passionate about the sector which, whilst being highly competitive and fast-moving, has a sense of pride and unity.
As a result, when it faces challenges such as mental health, its collective power means that it has an opportunity to make an impact beyond its boundaries.
Chris explained: “Drawing on our connections with the leadership of the industry, we are well placed to ensure wellbeing is embedded as a strategic priority.”
In addition to spearheading campaigns such as #forthefour, retailTRUST already has a successful track record of encouraging cross-sector collaboration through initiatives such as Wellbeing in Retail.
As previously reported by Make A Difference News, this has brought together John Lewis Partnership, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, ASOS, the Co-op, M&S, Next and Samaritans to help staff to look after their own mental health as well as identify colleagues who may have problems.
You can read about M&S’s experiences of cross-sector collaboration and putting the Wellbeing in Retail tool into action in this exclusive interview for Make A Difference Media with M&S’s Health and Wellbeing Manager, Beth Rochford.
Looking to the future, Chris is planning to build coalition across the sector. He believes that this will increase impact on long term strategies and how people are placed at the heart of retail.
Wrapping up our interview he summed-up: “retailTRUST is at the epicentre of an ecosystem of leaders and organisations that genuinely believe the health of people is super important – not only to the ongoing success of British retail but also to the whole of society.”
“Moving forward there will be increasing pressure – quite rightly – from customers, shareholders, investors and leadership themselves to deliver on the role that industry has to play in a fit, happy, healthy population”.
About the author
Claire Farrow is the Global Director of Content and Programming for the Mad World and Make a Difference Summits. She also drives the content for Make A Difference News. Claire is on a mission to help every employer – large, medium and small – get the insight, inspiration and contacts they need to make real impact on workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing in their organisation. She has been freelance for more than 15 years. During that time, she has had the honour of working with many leading publishers, including the New York Times