Retail Employees Face Stress, Injuries During Holiday Shopping Season

Black Friday just might be the least favorite day of the year for retail employees. Richard Feinberg of the Purdue University Retail Institute says that full-time and seasonal employees working the front lines of retailing during the holidays face an enormous amount of stress, and OSHA is warning employers to protect employees during Black Friday and other major sales events during the holidays.

With all retailers vying for limited consumer dollars and maintaining smaller inventories, aggressive sales and frustrated shoppers make the retail environment more dangerous for employees.

"Most retail sales associates I have met want to do a good job, but they often feel the strain of the holiday season," Feinberg says.

While Feinberg acknowledges the vast majority of retail employees have more stories of happily served and friendly customers than the half of one percent who are grumpy and angry, he said a negative interaction between customers and retail employees is 10 times more powerful than a positive one.

"The negatives have a greater impact, so it may seem like negative things are happening more often than they actually are," he says.
In 2008, a worker was trampled to death while a mob of shoppers rushed through the doors of a Wal-Mart to take advantage of an after-Thanksgiving Day Black Friday sales event. The store was not using the kind of crowd management measures recommended in a fact sheet from OSHA.

"Crowd control is critical to preventing injuries and deaths," said OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels. "These incidents can be prevented by adopting a crowd management plan, and this fact sheet provides retail employers with guidelines for avoiding injuries during the holiday shopping season."

The fact sheet from OSHA provides employers with recommended elements for crowd management plans. Plans should include having trained security personnel or police officers on-site, setting up barricades or rope lines for pedestrians and crowd control well in advance of customers arriving at the store, making sure that barricades are set up so that the customers' line does not start right at the entrance of the store, having emergency procedures in place that address potential dangers and having security personnel or customer service representatives explain approach and entrance procedures to the arriving public.

OSHA also recommends not allowing additional customers to enter the store when it reaches its maximum occupancy level and not blocking or locking exit doors.

Michaels is encouraging retailers to take precautions to prevent worker injuries. Hear what he has to say here.

Feinberg offers these tips to retail employees to help them deal with holiday stress:

  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothing.
  • Get your own shopping done early so you don't have to worry about it.
  • Find a quiet place to relax during breaks, even if it's just for a couple of minutes. And take as many breaks as you are allowed.
  • If a customer is difficult, don't take it personally. It's not you.
  • If you're busy with a customer and see someone waiting in line, offer a smile and perhaps a word or two to acknowledge that person.
  • Remember that your paycheck and employee discount can help you provide a nice holiday for your family.
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