Stricken retailers should not forget their staff

by | Aug 27, 2011 | News

Nicky Little from Cirrus writes for The Grocer

In the wake of riots and looting, many grocery retailers are dealing with a situation they have never had to face before. Most are focused on the practicalities of returning to normality as soon as possible: cleaning up, repairing damage, restocking, claiming insurance. In the midst of disorder, it’s also critical that leaders focus on the emotional wellbeing of their employees.

The UK’s major grocery retailers remained resilient during the chaos last week despite a number of stores, such as Aldi’s Tottenham branch,  being burnt down as well as looted. Aldi, like all the big supermarkets, expressed relief that nobody was harmed when stores were attacked. Sainsbury’s said the “safety of our customers and store colleagues is paramount,” and Tesco said the company has been “pretty impressed with how staff are getting on with things.” Concern for staff has clearly been of the utmost importance. However staff don’t only need support at the height of chaos – they also need ongoing assistance and reassurance. The Retail Trust Helpline has reported record numbers of calls from retail employees who are struggling to cope with the emotional aftermath of the chaos. What can leaders do to help?

This is a very challenging situation which calls for an holistic approach. Right now,  grocery retailers in affected areas are very focused on looking after the practicalities of returning to ‘business as usual’ – going back to meeting daily sales targets, stock taking and looking after customers. They need to balance this with providing employees with the emotional support that so many of them are crying out for.

Leaders need to recognise the human cost, to emphasise with employees and offer reassurance. This should be an active, two-way communication process.  As well as broadcasting messages of reassurance, it’s important to take time to listen and respond to particular concerns. Do some employees feel less secure at work as a result of the riots? If so, all existing and new safety measures should be clearly explained to help put them at ease. Do others need to talk through traumatic experiences? They need to be listened to and offered further sources of support if necessary. Do some need practical support – time off work or financial assistance to look after damage to their own homes? Responsible employers will consider how they can help.

Looking after employees also has a positive impact on another important group of people – customers. Although customers tend to be understanding and forgiving at times like this, they are also highly likely to turn to competitors.  Reassuring employees and involving them in future plans, can also help them to re-engage customers.  Shop staff are at the frontline of grocery retailing. They are face of your company, the people who engage in conversations with customers. They are well placed to offer reassurance and communicate future plans.

As well as focusing on urgent, immediate priorities, this is also a time to be visionary and think about the future. Leaders can help employees understand what they need to aim for and engage teams in a common purpose.

Emotional intelligence is also an attribute that can be benefited from. When emotions are high, leaders need to manage their own reactions as well as acknowledging and responding to the needs of others.  They need to have a clear head and stay cool in the crisis, combined with the heart to connect to others, support them and create momentum for joining together to overcome difficulties.

These are tough times, and leaders need courage. Right now, they will have to make some bold and brave decisions. However, it’s important to remember that people are the heart of any successful retail business, and many of these people need help to recover as much as any bricks and mortar need repairing.

Click here to read this article on The Grocer website.

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