Mental Health

How Working in Retail Affected My Mental Health

This week marks a year since I quit my job in retail. After working for the same company for 5 years, it was time for a change. While I have some incredibly fond memories with the friends I made, part of me feels as though my mental health took quite a hit over the years that I was there. I would like to say for the record, that this absolutely has nothing to do with a specific person, or the people I worked with. A combination of poor management, unfair policies, and an environment that was always overworked and understaffed, is what contributed to the decline of my mental health. 

I’ve re-written this post many times, because I don’t want it to be an attack on my previous employer, and I didn’t want to say anything that would upset anyone. I have no regrets when it comes to the people I met, because if I didn’t work there, I wouldn’t have met some of my best friends. However, I wanted to talk a little bit more detail about how much the environment affected me. 

It goes without saying that the views expressed in this post are my own, but I thought I’d make that clear up front.

Unrealistic Goals

Expectations were always so unrealistic, and in the unlikely event that you would actually meet them, the goal post would either be moved, or what you achieved wouldn’t be good enough. No amount of money made would be enough, and no targets met would be enough. If you made a mistake, you’d hear about it more than once – the initial telling off, followed by several reminders throughout the day. Chances are it would also be brought up in the morning meeting for the next week too. Working in retail can be soul destroying at the best of times, but when you’re continuously reminded by management that you’re shit at your job, it makes matters a hell of a lot worse. 

Naturally, this was never something I could shake off when I got home. Often, I’d feel so fed up that all I wanted to do was curl up in bed. I wouldn’t want to talk to anyone, and I’d instantly resent the fact that I had to get up and go back into that same place again the next morning.

Guilt Trips

Back when I originally started this job, I had not been diagnosed with OCD. At the time, I suffered with anxiety and emetophobia. It wasn’t until 2016 that I had my diagnosis, but in the run up to that, I noticed a significant increase in things like avoidance behaviours and compulsive hand washing. I strongly believe that this was a result of not only the lack of sick pay, but also the guilting people should you phone in sick. 

As with most retail jobs, the lack of sick pay meant that most people would come in sick. This would extend from the basic common cold right up to stomach bugs. I only remember one or two occasions where people were physically sick at work (and I care to forget them to be honest), but it meant that a number of people would come back to work while they were still contagious. Not only did this set me on edge when it came to avoiding anyone who had been off sick, but it meant on extreme occasions, I wouldn’t even use my own mug if it had been in the dishwasher with the sick persons’. It wasn’t just the lack of sick pay either that meant people came to work sick. On numerous occasions, if you called in sick, the response would often be “but we’re really short today,” or “[name] is off sick too, we’re going to struggle now.” Yes being short staffed is inconvenient, but at the end of the day, surely it’s better to be down one or two people for a couple of days than an endless stream of absences over weeks on end? 

Constant Anxiety

I could never quite shake the feelings of anxiety, especially towards the end. Part of my personality (that I now realise is probably made worse by my OCD) is that I can’t leave things unfinished. Any task I have to take on needs to be completed. I don’t like to half finish a job and give it to someone else, and having an incomplete task hanging over me causes me to feel very anxious. Yes, probably not the best idea to work in retail. However, this was yet another thing that got worse throughout my time there. Towards the end, you couldn’t complete basic paperwork or completely finish things up with your customer without being pounced on with the next task. 

One thing that also caused my anxiety to spike was the lack of work-life balance, and it was done simply through an app that we’re probably all familiar with: WhatsApp. There was an employee WhatsApp group, which I’m sure is very common with a lot of workplaces. That’s something in general that I don’t particularly have a problem with. However, what I did have a problem with, was the fact that you couldn’t go for more than a few hours without that bloody thing going off. The rule was not to post during “unsociable hours,” which I personally think should be between usual working hours. However, it would go off first thing in the morning, late in the evening, weekends, you name it. At 6.30am, I’m sitting in my pyjamas – I don’t want to know about how short staffed we are today.

Of course, there was the option to mute the chat – which I’m sure a lot of you will have instantly thought of. The only problem with that being literally anything that came up in real life the next day, you couldn’t question it without “did you not see it on the WhatsApp group?” Apparently, talking to each other properly was much more inconvenient.

Apologies if this post is a little all over the place. Quite frankly, it was one that I really struggled to write. I didn’t want to name the company I worked for (even though I’m sure any friends or family reading this will probably know), and even at the time of writing this final paragraph, I’m not even sure this makes a good enough post. My main goal was to highlight how much a stressful and unpleasant working environment can impact your mental health. Of course it’s not just retail, it can be any area of employment. My point is that if you are starting to realise that your mental health is struggling as a result of what’s going on at work, it may be time for a change. 

Featured image by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash.

24 thoughts on “How Working in Retail Affected My Mental Health

  1. That sounds horrific 😫 I can only imagine how difficult it must be working in retail with so many goals to meet and everyone wanting a piece of you. Sometimes you just have to accept that a job isn’t working for you and the the plunge to leave! I’m glad you managed to make that decision as you recognised your mental health was deteriorating xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s awful – Working in an opticians I would always feel for the customers I was dealing with because there’s no way I’d want someone full of snot getting up close to me! Thank you for reading xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing your story, I think it’s really important for others to see the effect work can have on your mental health. It’s so sad that it’s just a thing people are expected to put up with just to survive! I’m glad you got out of there and did what was best for your mental health! X

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I use to work in retail and I can relate to so many of the things you mentioned. I worked on a cosmetic counter where we were given the most ridiculous targets. If we did complete them, we got a basic “well done”, and then it was a new week with a new target.

    I hate that you’re made to feel guilty for just being ill. One time I had a really bad flu and took three days off. I had to have a meeting with my manager and go through paperwork to confirm everything.

    My last point before I start an essay – I don’t think many people respect how tough retail is. Managers are often not the best and you can get the most horrendous customers. x

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  4. Retail is grim!! At the best of times you definitely make some amazing friendships, but I’ve been in the same workplace for close to four years now and I’m getting tired very quickly. I 100% relate with the guilt tripping – for me it was when I had to call off for things that regarded university, like having to go in to do a presentation of make a group project work, but also when I wasn’t feeling well. I’ve eventually just had to learn to say ‘no’ when offered shifts I genuinely can’t fill and switch off as soon as I let them know I can’t work a certain day because if I don’t, the guilt-tripping genuinely gets me. This was such a great post, I haven’t read one like this and it’s so relateable for so many people!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment 🙂 Sorry to hear to get guilt tripped at your work too – I would say it’s a low key form of bullying! Just because you can’t do a shift or you’re unwell it can’t be helped! Thanks for stopping by xx

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s been over 7 years now since I left retail and I am SO glad that I got out before Whatsapp had really taken off and workplaces were using it – when I found out the staff at my local Costa were all expected to have it and that was how shifts were communicated (and some bullying behaviour that I’m not meant to know about) I was genuinely shocked! I have a cousin who quit working for a prestigious law firm because he was expected to be answering on his blackberry at all hours….and now we are expecting that from workers in retail and serving coffee too?

    It’s no wonder that our generation keeps on burning out!

    I remember the first time I rang in sick to the school that I worked at after retail – I was having a panic attack from all the times I’d been guilted ringing in when I worked retail (and I do kinda get that when I’m on the open starting at 6am and I start throwing up at 3am, there’s not a lot of time to find cover for me) and there was a specific lady in the office at school that dealt with staff absence and she was just like “oh no! I hope you feel better soon, give me a call in the morning if you’re still unwell” and it was just the nicest thing to not have to argue with someone over how sick I was!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s disgusting the fact that employees are just added to these groups without even being asked – I’m sure it goes against GDPR or something. especially seeing as WhatsApp tends to show the phone numbers. You think about with the larger companies that have 50+ staff members, would you really want everyone in that group knowing your phone number? At the very least they should ask you if you’re happy to join it. I remember a friend of mine left the WhatsApp group and she was berated for it for months – I didn’t realise there was no choice in the matter!

      It’s amazing the difference with how illness and such gets treated when you work in a job that’s not retail – when I called in sick to my current job the response was “If you’re ill, you’re ill. Give me a call in the morning if you’re still not well.” Like what? I was willing to put up a fight! I get that it’s difficult for them to find extra cover when you call in sick with those sorts of jobs, but I always thought in the long run surely it’s better to be a little short than having a clearly unwell member of staff coming in and a) spreading their germs to the other staff and b) potentially giving it to the customers! We worked up close with the elderly and young children at times and the amount of times I was there full of cold fitting glasses was endless – I felt so sorry for them! Thank you for stopping by lovely 🙂 xx

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have never had a retail job & reading people’s posts like yours about their experiences makes me relieved that I haven’t (though like you said any unpleasant working environment can affect your mental health).
    I’m glad that you noticed your mental health was declining & you have since then quit your job.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you – yes from what I’ve heard from others retail generally isn’t a very nice environment to work in as a whole! If anything I feel silly for not leaving sooner! Thank you for reading 🙂 x

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have only worked in retail for one day, and the manager told me to be more outgoing with customers and it was at a time in my life i barely wanted to speak to people i knew let alone strangers! They just don’t care. Needless to say, I did not go back after my first shift. Well done for getting out of that job!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh that’s horrible! That sort of thing takes time too, you can’t just magically become more outgoing! Completely agree that they just don’t care – there’s no loyalty! Thank you for stopping by 🙂 x

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve worked at a grocery store & I don’t know if that counts as retail but, I totally remember the guilt trips about calling in sick– managers should def be more understanding & maybe even wish their employee to get better soon, not tell them how short-staffed you’ll be. We also had to ring items up super fast & at the end of the day we’d compare our numbers, every time I hit the goal, it’d be raised.

    I’m so glad you realized how much this job was effecting you mentally & were able to quit. Such a great & relatable post. Thanks for sharing with us! 💖

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I’ve heard some horrible tales from people I know who worked in supermarkets! I get at the end of the day they have to make money but treating their staff like absolute crap surely is no way to go about it! We had a very similar situation where I worked, it was all about targets and when one wasn’t met it would just be “what went wrong there?” Nothing, some days you just can’t reach them no matter how hard you try! Thank you so much for reading 🙂 xx

      Liked by 1 person

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