Shop workers blame cost of living stress for rising abuse

Abuse and violence towards shop workers and service staff is on the rise again, research shows, with a quarter of those reporting hostility blaming the cost of living crisis putting increased stress on customers.

Figures from the trade body the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) revealed 44% of frontline retail staff have experienced hostility from customers in the past six months – up by a quarter from the figure of 35% in February.

It comes as new powers come into force on Tuesday, which will allow for large penalties to be handed to customers who attack and abuse shop workers. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 was given royal assent in April.

The policy change came after a host of retailers reported a surge in attacks on workers during the pandemic.

Tensions are continuing to rise and this is thought to be linked with declining consumer sentiment amid the cost of living crisis, according to the ICS.

Jo Causon, the institute’s chief executive officer, said: “Today’s change in the law is a reason for celebration for all those who campaigned for service with respect for our nation’s hard-working, frontline service professionals.

“These new stricter sentencing guidelines will provide vital protection for workers against a backdrop of heightened customer stress and frustration relating to rising prices, and falling levels of service due to widespread skills shortages.

“I worry that UK businesses are becoming trapped in a catch-22 situation, with tensions boiling over into abuse that triggers staff absences leading to further frustration.

“We must break this cycle, by acting together as a society to offer our support to hard-pressed, frontline workers.”

The ICS research, from a poll of more than 1,300 customer-facing staff, found that over a third – 35% – believe that the public’s behaviour and tone have become more aggressive over the past six months.

Meanwhile, 33% of workers who have experienced hostility cited higher levels of anxiety among shoppers as a trigger for customer hostility and 25% specifically linked it to price increases.

Causon added: “As a nation, we find ourselves at the mercy of stock and staff shortages related to global and domestic issues.

“These issues aren’t going away, and so price rises and inflation will be on the cards for many months yet.

“To prepare for this, I urge employers to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to hostility, ensuring their employees are trained to handle difficult situations when they arise.”

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