No industry has seen more change over the past decade than consumer retail
For many retail veterans, forces like those that took down the likes of K-Mart from 2,000 stores to just three in the span of almost 30 years are instantly recognizable and may cause anxiety.
Companies today have had to master sales and marketing on ever-shifting platforms while also juggling the need for continual staffing and training in a high turnover environment. All of this is done at a time when there are acute employee shortages during massive demand for growth amid the worst supply chain crunch in recent history.
If that wasn’t enough, retail employers are also contending with things like rising inflation and real estate prices, whether renting or owning, while working to open physical stores, with twice as many openings as closings in 2021.
It’s for these reasons that the next 12 months or so will be a critical period that industry heavyweights call the “great retail reset.” And while you may be thinking to yourself, “it’s a stretch to link employee tobacco use with the companies that emerge as the winners in times of turmoil” – it’s really not.
Beat the “great retail reset” by understanding tobacco use hurts retail employers
Now is the time to operate at peak productivity, and there’s little to no room for error. The challenges that tobacco use brings have impacted everything from profit margins to brand image.
Tobacco use both in and around the workplace has been agitated by the pandemic, which has negatively changed perceptions of the habit. That’s why we at Pivot worked with Dimensional Research to survey retail industry employers and employees about tobacco use, and cessation programs and their perceived effectiveness.
This survey spoke with 100 HR professionals and more than 300 tobacco-using employees at large retail companies (classified as having over 3,000 employees each) – in addition to five other industries. The answers they provided gave insight into the current state of workplace tobacco use, industry tobacco cessation programs, and ways to use those survey findings to nourish a high-performance workforce through world-class benefits.
Three insights retail employers need to know
The COVID-19 pandemic reversed a half-century decline in tobacco use
Tobacco use in the U.S. has steadily declined for more than 50 years – but the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly halted that progress, with a huge trend reversal in the retail industry specifically. A number of surveys and scientific studies show that work-related stress and anxiety play a large role in a person’s decision to either start or resume using tobacco.
It’s undeniable that the pandemic has increased stress levels across the world. Retail’s largest single sector by employment – grocery – was designated as essential during the pandemic, and retail workers were often left without the option to socially distance themselves from other employees or customers.
A 2021 study from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal found that essential retail workers with direct customer experience were around five times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than those without- the anticipation, as well as the actual experience of being sick (and missing work, and therefore, paychecks), saw stress levels skyrocket.
Such data makes it unsurprising that tobacco use has increased among retail workers. Consider the fact that U.S. Census data from 2018 shows more than half of all retail workers between the ages of 16 to 34 have taken up tobacco, either for the first time or again. This astonishing number includes Generation Z – the age group that our survey found most likely to have started or restarted tobacco use during the pandemic.
Retail workers hide tobacco use from their employers, but for reasons unfound in other industries
Of the five industries surveyed – retail, hospitality, construction, manufacturing, and transportation – retail employees were the least likely to avoid revealing their tobacco use to their employer, although a majority still did try to avoid it at least some of the time.
But, retail employees hide tobacco use for different reasons than employees in other industries. While others are most often motivated by economic concerns, including being charged more for health insurance, the retail workforce is more motivated by reputation concerns and privacy caused by negative stigmas and cost increases that often come with tobacco use.
Tobacco cessation programs are a priority for employers and employees
A large majority of surveyed retail employers and employees say that no-cost access to an employer-provided tobacco cessation program is either “extremely” or “very important” to them. Employers surveyed rank tobacco cessation as their third-highest priority health and wellness benefit they can offer. Retail employees believe strongly in the value of tobacco cessation programs as an employee benefit, and even take such benefits into consideration when evaluating prospective jobs.
Don’t miss the importance of wellness programs like tobacco cessation
It may be easy to miss the importance of wellness programs like tobacco cessation with core benefits like health insurance and retirement savings accounts being a huge focus for HR teams. It’s clear, however, that programs like a high-quality tobacco cessation program are highly valued, and pay worthwhile dividends that can attract and retain a high-performing workforce.