Wellbeing disaster | Are U.S. retail workers really being denied chairs for 'productivity'?

Are U.S. retail workers really being denied chairs for 'productivity'?

Those of us who have worked in a retail space (currently more than 4.1 million Americans) know just what a demanding job it can be.

It’s a fast-paced environment, with demanding customers and a seemingly never-ending workload – to add to the pressure, many retail workers find themselves on their feet for the vast majority of their day.

However, it can also be an incredibly rewarding space in which to work, if employees have a sense of purpose, and the organisation looks after its people. These two vital factors, however, seem to have been lost in a recent worrying trend taking over retail spaces across the nation.

According to a recent investigation by The Guardian, a shocking number of high street chains are now removing places for employees to sit and catch their breath whilst working, in a move to ‘increase productivity’ and reduce what they perceive to be inactivity.

The likes of Dairy Queen and Walmart have been key perpetuators of the trend, actively labelling seats within their locations as ‘not for employees’.

This seemingly innocuous policy has far-reaching implications for the physical and mental wellbeing of employees, which deserves closer examination.

Recent studies have shed light on the detrimental effects of prolonged standing on the human body, with consequences ranging from foot and leg pain to joint problems and chronic conditions such as varicose veins.

Physical wellbeing aside, the lack of adequate rest breaks can also have severe implications for the mental health of retail workers. The monotonous nature of the job, coupled with constant exposure to customer demands and time pressures, can contribute to stress, anxiety, and burnout.

Without the opportunity to sit down and take a brief respite, employees are denied a crucial opportunity to recharge, leading to a decline in job satisfaction and overall happiness.

The harm of removing seating for staff

The failure to prioritize the wellbeing of retail workers stems from a misguided perception that sitting equates to laziness or unproductivity.

However, research provided by the CDC clearly indicates that providing suitable seating options can actually enhance productivity and employee morale. When workers are given the chance to rest and alleviate physical strain, they are more likely to remain focused, efficient, and motivated, resulting in higher-quality customer service and increased sales.

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In addition to the clear ethical imperative of ensuring the wellbeing of employees, businesses must recognize the financial impact of neglecting their workers' needs.

The costs associated with absenteeism, turnover, and decreased productivity due to physical discomfort and mental strain can be substantial.

Employers should view investment in employee health and comfort as a long-term strategy that promotes retention, reduces turnover costs, and fosters a positive work environment.

What are companies doing to ease the physical burden on retail staff?

It’s clear that taking away opportunities to sit and rest is, in short, a terrible idea. However, simply maintaining the status quo could also be ineffective.

Forward-thinking companies have already begun to acknowledge the importance of employee wellbeing by implementing innovative practices such as adjustable workstations, ergonomic seating, and regular rest breaks.

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These businesses have not only observed positive outcomes in terms of employee satisfaction and engagement but have also seen improvements in customer satisfaction and loyalty.

So, it seems that with this worrying trend, companies such as Walmart are not only contributing to higher productivity, but actually damaging it, and in the process potentially losing staff. If you have a retail workforce, heed the lessons from the mistakes of these firms, and practice active wellbeing support for staff.

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