How to Reduce Anxiety in Food Retail Workers

Staff working in the food retail sector need support to maintain their mental health during these stressful times.
Staff working in the food retail sector need support to maintain their mental health during these stressful times.

In many regions, food retail services have been declared essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic. As an essential service, food retailers such as grocery stores and supermarkets must continue to operate while ensuring the safety of staff and customers. This is a precarious position to be in; being on the frontline of the coronavirus crisis can be physically, emotionally and mentally taxing. It is vital that all staff working in the food retail sector get the support they need to maintain their mental health during these stressful times.

Here are some ways to help manage mental health in a food retail business:

Rotate staff

People who are working in grocery stores and supermarkets are working under tough conditions. They are trying to do their normal job while also adhering to stringent rules put in place to protect against COVID-19. They are being expected to adapt to new ways of working while still maintaining their efficiency. This can be extremely stressful. One way to help staff not get overwhelmed is to rotate staff from higher-stress to lower-stress functions if possible. By rotating staff, you give them opportunities to work on tasks that are less demanding and give them a mental break. You can also partner inexperienced or newer staff with more experienced staff. This system helps experienced staff to support workers, monitor their stress and reinforce safety procedures. Make sure that someone from management is checking in with the experienced staff, though, as they need to be supported as well.

Encourage breaks

Staff working in food retail are working in stressful conditions. There are new protocols that must be adhered to, increased cleaning and sanitizing measures to be followed, and droves of customers purchasing large quantities of food and household products. It is enough to make even the most level-headed person stressed out. To help combat this, encourage work breaks for all staff and monitor them. Ensure that staff are using all of their break time and not rushing back to their post. If you can, conduct a brief ‘mental check-in’ with employees during their breaks to see how they are feeling.

Maintain preventative measures

With reports on the coronavirus dominating the news and most discussions, staff will be acutely aware of COVID-19 and the risks they are taking by coming to work. It is expected that most, if not all, of the staff will be worried and fearful about contracting the virus. This is why keeping up the new safety protocols and hygiene practices is essential. By continuing to enforce hand washing, social distancing, increased cleaning and sanitizing, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), you are showing your staff that the food business is doing everything it can to keep them safe. These actions will help to ease your staff’s worries and reduce their anxiety.

Keep communication open

Some staff may be feeling lonely or isolated, even while they are working. Unfortunately some food workers will experience avoidance by their family due to them continuing to work in the food business. Family members may be concerned about them contracting the coronavirus, and then passing it on to them. This stigma can increase a person’s anxiety and fears, while simultaneously making them feel depressed and alone. This is why maintaining open and frequent communication with all staff is so important.

As the pandemic continues on, some of your staff may have already fallen ill with COVID-19. For some people, knowing other team members are becoming sick with the coronavirus can be distressing. This can increase their anxiety about getting COVID-19, especially if they have been working with someone who became ill. It is important to keep communicating with staff so that they are up-to-date on what is going on in the business and with other team members. This can help to alleviate fears and reduce anxiety. Remember: you may be the only person who understands what they are going through during this time. Use your shared experience to offer support and understanding, which will help with your staff’s mental health.

Understand the signs

Many food workers may be dealing with mental health issues like anxiety or depression, but may not know it or may be trying to hide it for fear of losing their job. It is important to know the signs of anxiety and depression so that you can help support your staff. This also helps you, as an owner or manager, to identify the signs in yourself. Remember that anyone can struggle with their mental health, including mangers of a food business.

Destigmatize anxiety and depression

Experiencing mental health struggles does not make someone weak. Feeling under pressure is likely to be experienced by all staff during this time. Ensure that you communicate to your staff that it is quite normal to be feeling this way in the current situation. Also make sure to emphasize that feelings of stress are by no means a reflection that they are inefficient workers. Work hard to break the stigma around anxiety and depression so that all staff feel comfortable with how they are feeling. This can go a long way to helping manage mental health and the overall morale of the business.