Employee benefits: supporting retail and hospitality staff against customer abuse

A rise in abusive and violent behaviour towards staff has significantly impacted the working environment in retail and hospitality. Ultimately, this can lead to mental health issues, a rise in absences, and difficulties attracting the right talent.

Employers can stand out amongst peers if they proactively support staff by offering training and specific employee benefits.

Rise in aggressive behaviour

Incidents of abusive behaviour towards staff in the UK retail sector reached 1,300 a day in 2022/23, a 50% rise on the daily rate from the previous year, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) crime survey report 2024 (opens a new window). Shoplifting has also soared to unprecedented levels, with losses to retailers doubling in the last year to £1.8 billion.

The rise in abusive behaviour coincides with higher costs of living, increased reliance on self-checkouts, and a rise in organised crime. However, while incidents have risen, the number of reports to the police have significantly decreased - 60% of respondents felt dissatisfied with the police response to these types of incidents. Also, the BRC found that the most prevalent reason for not reporting was the belief that nothing would happen as a result.

A number of reports (opens a new window) have also decried antisocial behaviour in the hospitality sector in the UK. For example, “rude and abusive" audience members were removed from the balcony of a West End performance of Grease by police. Elsewhere, a performance of Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell at London's Peacock Theatre was brought to a standstill by a man hurling abuse at fellow theatregoers.

Business effects of abusive behaviour towards staff

For sectors experiencing staff shortages since the Covid-19 pandemic, the rise in abusive behaviour towards retail staff has exacerbated recruitment concerns. According to The Retail Trust (opens a new window), over a third of workers in large retailers said they wanted to leave the retail sector as a career.

For businesses, continued loss of staff can prove costly, as the hiring and onboarding process totals £3000 on average, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) (opens a new window). Retail and hospitality staff worried about their safety may experience a decline in performance due to the toll on their mental health. It is therefore imperative employers ensure their employees are well protected and cared for throughout their employment.

Adequately supporting employees starts with benefits

Despite the BRC reporting £1.2 billion expenditure on crime prevention across the retail sector in 2022/23, there is a significant lack of protection for employees. Whereas Scotland implemented the Protection of Workers Act in 2021, the rest of the UK does not have anything similar. This means it is challenging to get convictions for abuse towards retail and hospitality staff. To ensure any potential future or current employees feel looked after, employee benefits, training and protective gear should all be considered. Here are some options worth considering:

  • Safety technology – body cams, wireless headsets, and facial recognition technology all provide a safety blanket for the employee to work under.

  • Conflict training – training frontline staff to prevent abusive situations from arising or how to de-escalate them.

  • Wellbeing focus – some UK businesses have rolled out weekly wellbeing days that provide a holistic support system for employees. This gives staff a designated time to process any incidents amongst colleagues.

  • Mental health services – offering free counselling sessions for employees and family members helps process any incidents of abusive or violent behaviour.

  • Healthcare – although not exclusive to retail and hospitality, employer-covered healthcare ensures any victims of customer abuse are well looked after.

  • C-suite education – C-suite and executive staff need education on benefits to ensure money is allocated to the optimal places when it comes to protecting staff. Benefits can be provided at the fraction of the cost of a small payroll increase.

  • Group Life Assurance (GLA) – put in place for all employees, GLA can provide additional services such as mental health services, employee assistance programmes (EAP), and virtual GP services.

  • Cash plans – reimburses employees for some or all the cost for a range of day-to-day benefits such as dental and optical care, as well as benefits for those on their feet all day, such as chiropody, physiotherapy, and chiropractic treatment. Additional wellbeing services and an affordable price-point make cash plans an ideal choice for businesses’ supporting staff through customer abuse.

For more information, please visit the Lockton People Solutions (opens a new window) page.

Read our Employee Benefits related content


The Spring Budget: key takeaways for earners