Retail association urges Australians to treat retail workers with respect this Christmas season, following the launch of its online survey about abuse from customers
Over the past two years, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) spoke with more than 10,000 retail and fast food workers during its annual national safety week, finding almost half reported experiencing customer violence or abuse in the workplace.
“Thousands of retail and fast food workers are regularly subjected to customer abuse and violence while they are at work, and it’s not acceptable,” says National Secretary Gerard Dwyer.
“Customers need to be reminded that shops are also workplaces, all retail workers and fast food workers should feel safe at work, and protected from any form of violence or abuse perpetrated by customers.
“We’re asking the public to remember what the festive season is all about – good will and generosity, which should be extended to customer service staff as well – there’s no excuse for abuse.”
Kay Dunkley, from the Pharmacists’ Support Service, says that calls to the support line about abuse from customers are “common”.
“This certainly is an issue and it can be very intimidating for both pharmacists and pharmacy assistants,” Dunkley told the AJP.
“There have been cases – and I’ve seen this myself – where a customer who’s dissatisfied will just knock stock off the shelf, or if they’re not happy about a price, they’ll throw an item back at the person who’s given it to them.
“We’ve had cases where a customer has taken photographs of staff without their permission, using their phone, and saying, ‘I know who you are’ – we had one caller who had to use public transport and was very anxious that a particular customer might be out there waiting for them after the shop closed, or getting on the train with them.
“Anyone in customer service is going to have these experiences unfortunately, which is not nice.
“And pharmacists in particular are dealing with people who can be intoxicated with medicines, with other substances, with alcohol, or who have mental health issues – they’re perhaps encountering people who are more likely to have inappropriate behaviours.”
Dunkley says that while more experienced pharmacists often develop a thick skin over the years, it’s often a shock to younger pharmacists, and pharmacy assistants, when they face difficulties commonly experienced by all levels of retail worker.
“It can be a shock that people don’t value them as a health professional wanting to impart important information, and they are treated so disrespectfully and rudely,” she told the AJP.
“Pharmacies can be a lot busier at this time of year, and there’s probably greater customer throughput.”
Elise Apolloni, partner at the Wanniassa Capital Chemist Wanniassa (the first recognised Gold Standard Skilled Workplace for Mental Health First Aid in the country) says that for some people, Christmas can be a very stressful time of year.
“They could be really lonely, or grieving the loss of someone close to them – this time of year often brings up some sort of hurt for people that might manifest itself in a change of mood,” she says.
“This would be something to talk about with them if you can take them to a private corner and check they’re okay.
“The Safety Net’s winding up, people are gearing up for holidays, and so pharmacies are busier places than at other times of the year. I’d like to think most pharmacies would accommodate that by putting on extra staff and trying to enjoy the festive season as best we can and serve everyone quickly, but it’s hard for everyone because it’s such a busy time.”
She says that if a pharmacist or pharmacy assistant has been upset by poor behaviour by customers, it can be very useful to talk about it with colleagues, the PSS or other services such as Lifeline.
“It’s really important that you stay safe at work and look after yourself and your team members,” she says. “Maybe get a more senior member of staff or the pharmacist in charge to talk with the customer, or if you feel threatened, follow your pharmacy’s procedures to deal with it the best you can.”
On the other hand, Nick Logan, of Nick Logan Pharmacist Advice in Sydney, told the AJP that he finds his customers are mostly happy and positive in December.
“With the 21 day rule for the Safety Net, it doesn’t make as much difference as it used to – so I think pharmacy has got past that idea of having to get them all in early,” he says.
“It was a valid and sensible decision and better for staffing as well – it means we don’t have wild changes in requirements for staffing levels unless you’ve got a really bit gift section.
“For me, the goodwill you generate throughout the year comes home to roost in December.
“We’re busy, but everyone’s in a really good mood. To me, it’s a really pleasant thing, being in retail this time of year.”
Pharmacists needing support can call the Pharmacists’ Support Service on 1300 244 910