Workplace violence is NOT the problem in the UK retail industry! by Tom Richmond

As a retailer, If you are making hundreds of millions, if not billions of pounds in profit every year, you don’t have a workplace violence and shoplifting problem. You have a managerial problem. As conscious decisions at board and senior management level are being made to put profit before people.

Tesco is expected to make around £2.6 billion in profit for the 2023 to 2024 reporting year. Asda made around £890 million in profit in 2022. Morrisons made around £830 million in profit in 2022. Sainsbury’s made around £690 million in profit in 2023.

No one is saying that the retailers should not make a healthy and substantial profit. They are one of the hardest working industries in the UK. They supported to steer the nation through the Covid epidemic. They play pivotal roles in their local communities. Plus, they employ hundreds of thousands of people. But if those people that you employ are turning up at work and are regularly subjected to workplace violence such as being sworn at, spat at, slapped, punched, kicked, beaten, run over, or slashed with knives, then can the senior managers and executive boards of these companies look themselves in the mirror and say that they are doing everything in their power to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of those people that they employ. The majority of which will be earning under £15ph.

The retailers have shareholders and investors who have to see a significant financial return on their investment. Plus the retailers need to continually invest and innovate in order to provide the service that customers need, and adapt their operation to the ever changing technological and economic landscapes within the UK. No one wants to see another Woolworths. But the biggest investment that retailers should be making is in their own people, and making it the safest place possible for their employees to work. Aiming to significantly reduce workplace violence in the retail environment.

In 2010, one of the largest retailers was spending around £80 million in security guard wages per year. The majority of which were minimum wage guards. Minimum wage guarding has been the backbone of the retail industry’s security mitigation measure for decades. However as the risk in the UK of workplace violence and shoplifting has increased significantly, the wages of security guards has being stagnant and not kept pace. So what you are left with is a security mitigation measure of minimum wage guards, that are not effective in mitigating the risk of workplace violence and shoplifting that has increased dramatically. As the risk of workplace violence and shoplifting increased, the quality of the security guards should have increased also at a similar, or greater, rate. So that the security guards were able to mitigate effectively this massive increase in the risk of violence within retail stores.

However this failure of the retailers to invest in quality guarding to combat workplace violence is not because the retailers aren’t investing in security mitigation measurses. But this failure of the retailers is because they are investing poorly in the wrong security mitigation measures. One of the big UK retailers has a £1m security operations centre. They are all investing in bodyworn cameras. There are new 360 degree CCTV cameras that give superb CCTV picture quality. There are bottle locks for spirits, electromagnetic tags for clothes, and automatic trolley locks to try and stop you leaving the store without paying. But this technology will never fulfil its potential if it is not underpinned by quality guarding. The retailers should continue investing in security mitigation measures, but in people and not technology.

Currently when you walk into a retail store you are likely to see a minimum wage security guard, sat behind a podium, staring at the CCTV, and not engaging with anyone entering the store. From working with rehabilitated shoplifting offenders, who often use associated violence to commit theft from retailers, they are very clear on the number one security mitigation measure that retailers should use. If the person with criminal intent walks into a store and sees a solid looking security guard, who is well dressed, engaging, and focussed on the people entering the store, this is enough to make that potential offender question whether it is worth their risk in trying to commit theft in the store, and instead leave straight away empty handed.

By increasing the standard of guards by paying an additional 25% in wages, the quality of the security guards would be at a level to effectively mitigate the risk from this dramatic increase in workplace violence and shoplifting. However, this increase in wages would be offset by the reduction in shoplifting because of the quality and effectiveness of the security guards that would be employed. So there is potential for this wage increase not to reduce the overall profit of the business. Importantly though, and something that is harder to measure than financial reward. Is the safer environment that would be created for hard working retail employees to come to work each day. Knowing that their multi-million and billion pound profit employers are investing significantly in their safety. With security mitigation measures that will actually work to effectively reduce shoplifting and the associated workplace violence.

Article written by Tom Richmond, former Operational Security Manager for Asda, and current workplace violence reduction consultant.

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About the Author: Michael O'Sullivan