This holiday season, the Healthy Work Campaign urges employers and the public to have consideration and to express gratitude for the many workers whose work becomes highly demanding and stressful during the holidays.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2022, there were over 4 million workers employed in the retail sales sector, making a median hourly wage of $14.79/hour or $30,000 per year. At the best of times, retail jobs are highly demanding, physically and emotionally, especially with the rise of incivility directed at front line workers. The holiday season exacerbates these demands, with longer hours, more shifts, and more crowded stores and overly demanding shoppers. Horror stories told by retail workers are in abundance.

Recently NIOSH released a scientific blog article which discusses the challenges faced by retail workers during the holiday season, emphasizing the risks of fatigue, violence, and stress. According to the blog, 47% of retail workers in a 2021 survey reported their stress levels increase over the holidays. 

Major sources of stress for retail workers include physical violence and verbal abuse, long hours or irregular schedules, lack of paid vacation time, standing for extended periods, reduced staffing, lack of control over work tasks and schedules, and poor support from supervisors and colleagues. Retail workers dealing with heightened levels of these stressors are vulnerable to fatigue, impacting cognitive abilities and safety.

The NIOSH blog recommends retail employers implement the following preventive measures, including: 

  • allowing sufficient time between shifts for recovery
  • advanced notice for schedule changes
  • rest breaks
  • violence prevention strategies: training, reporting and work redesign
  • giving workers more control over work tasks and conditions
  • training managers and supervisors to be more supportive.

The Healthy Work Campaign notes that unfortunately, many employers do not implement these solutions since they are an additional expense. However, we also point out that workers who are overworked or burned out are less able to offer high quality customer service, may take more sick time off, or leave their jobs, which also costs retail employers in multiple ways.

To check out case studies that have incorporated some of the solutions mentioned, visit our Healthy Work Strategies page. These strategies can lead to fewer injuries, healthier coping behaviors, and less job turnover, as well as improved worker sleep, worker health, job satisfaction, and more.

Want to see more lasting change? Consider advocating for “fair workweek laws” that contribute to more stable employment, as highlighted in this case study. That would be the holiday gift that keeps on giving.

Additional Resources

OSHA website: Workplace Stress: Make work better – mental health matters.

OSHA workplace stress guides for supervisors and managers

WHO guidelines on mental health at work

NIOSH Stress at Work topic page

NIOSH Healthy Work Design and Well-being Program

Fundamentals of Total Worker Health® Approaches: Essential Elements for Advancing Worker Safety, Health, and Wellbeing

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