Wellbeing strategies: Why retail leaders need to act now • eCommerce Forum | Forum Events Ltd
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  • Wellbeing strategies: Why retail leaders need to act now

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    As Covid cases hit their highest levels for months, the pandemic is exacerbating staff shortages in retail. According to ONS figures, infection rates in retail almost doubled between the start of March and mid-March. Against this backdrop of chronic absences, there were almost triple the number of vacancies in February 2022, when compared to February 2021.

    Now more than ever, retailers need to show they’re putting employee health first, by developing sound wellbeing strategies. According to Retail Trust, some 91% of retail managers said they’d noticed more mental health issues among staff. However, 28% of these managers said they didn’t have enough support from higher-ups to combat the issues.

    Tony Gregg, Chief Executive at retail executive search firm Anthony Gregg Partnership, highlights how retailer leaders can develop wellbeing strategies that respond to workforce needs. He also explains how these strategies can enhance productivity, engagement and happiness – and how often they should be reviewed and updated… 

    What are wellbeing strategies?

    Wellbeing strategies are carefully formed plans of action, intended to improve the health and happiness of a workforce. They string together employee benefits into a cohesive policy with well-defined goals. Effective wellbeing strategies can reduce absenteeism, stress and general ill health.

    Unfortunately, not all companies follow a wellbeing strategy. At many organisations, benefits and wellbeing initiatives are not rolled out in a planned manner.

    Develop proactive plans and lead by example

    Widespread staff shortages and mixed messaging around Covid policies are creating the impression that the retail industry is not putting employee wellbeing first. If this notion is allowed to fester, staff shortages will only get worse.

    If, on the other hand, preventative care is introduced, retail businesses could improve retention rates. Whether it’s health screenings or encouraging healthier eating, enabling employees to improve their wellbeing shows them that the organisation cares. Of course, healthier staff are also absent less often.

    Those at the top can also lead by example, contributing to a trickle-down effect. Looking after their own wellbeing can be something as simple as leaving the office on time or participating in mental health awareness training.

    Listen to people to create a tailored approach

    It can be daunting when setting out to formulate a new company-wide strategy. Yet part of the answer is the employees themselves. They can provide key insight into what they want and what might work. An anonymous survey, for example, will supply ideas and direction for a wellbeing strategy.

    Paying due consideration to objectives is also vital. For instance, if the main goal is to reduce absenteeism, the focus might be on wellbeing initiatives that encourage healthier lifestyles, as well as support for mental health.

    Externally, executive coaching can enable leaders to become more receptive to what employees need – and support them with their planning/strategy skills. They will learn to pinpoint challenges facing employees, helping them to create more complete and more effective wellbeing plans, and benefitting people throughout the business. And once one effective wellbeing strategy has been implemented, it will become the benchmark for all future plans, raising standards for good.

    See which retailers get wellbeing right

    Sainsbury’s has an extremely well-developed wellbeing strategy, which focuses on mental, physical and financial wellbeing. With rampant cost of living rises, financial wellbeing will increasingly become part of wellbeing strategies.

    In terms of mental health, meanwhile, more than 12,000 Sainsbury’s line managers have completed mental health awareness training. They also estimate that over 10,000 employees use the Unmind app, which the company has provided free access to.

    Yet one of the most important aspects of Sainsbury’s strategy is that they run regular campaigns to remind staff of the tools and support they have available.

    Another retailer taking wellbeing seriously is John Lewis, which introduced free healthcare for its people back in 1929. Their Partnership Health Services provide employees with everything from physiotherapy and podiatry to hearing tests and therapy sessions.

    Meanwhile, over 8,000 John Lewis employees take part in the retailer’s clubs and societies, which enrich their lives outside of work.

    Be aware of changing employee sentiment

    Just as companies might use surveys or focus groups to establish their wellbeing strategies, the same techniques can also be used to review their success – and the level of wellbeing in the company.

    As a minimum, integral changes to the working environment or organisational structure should herald a review of wellbeing programmes. While an influx of new employees might also change the dynamic and the balance of what people want from their benefits.

    And since strategies will be closely linked to company-wide objectives, once those goals have been reached, the shape of the wellbeing strategy may have to change. For example, if staff absences are brought down to the desired level, leaders may then want to concentrate on how they can engage employees further.


    As the retail industry continues to battle with staff shortages, now is the time to implement wellbeing strategies or review existing ones. Working patterns have changed dramatically since Covid-19 hit – and employees realise they now have more choice and power.

    Employee expectations have shifted, forcing employers to shift in response. Those that don’t react will be left behind, losing out on the most talented individuals and, even worse, potentially becoming known for outdated attitudes to employee wellbeing.

    Retail leaders must spearhead changes, prioritising employee wellbeing and presenting it as a solution – and not a distraction from – the ongoing staff shortages.

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