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Angry customers, store ‘guardianship’ taking a toll on retail workers: study

Photo: VisualCommunications/iStockphoto

Boca Raton, FL — Retail workers “are being asked to do too much,” and many are “leaving or throwing up their hands,” says a researcher from Florida Atlantic University.

In a university press release, Melanie Lorenz, an associate professor of marketing in the FAU College of Business, added that many retail workers are tasked with policing hostile customers and confronting shoplifters, “often without extra money or training.” This can lead to negative emotions and anxiety.

Lorenz was part of a team of researchers from four different universities who used a combination of in-depth worker interviews, experiments, and surveys to analyze the effect of policing workplace policies on frontline workers and their managers. The policies included mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic, which research showed exacerbated customers’ bad behavior.

Workers who were interviewed said they expect supervisors to assume more responsibility in enforcing policies against customer behaviors such as shoplifting, incivility and aggression.

The researchers recommend that employers provide training to help workers mitigate and manage anxiety related to “guardianship” of the store, and then further educate them on strategies to recognize, avoid and respond to potentially deviant customer behavior. 

The study was published online in the Journal of Service Research.

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