83% of retail workers in Ireland have experienced harassment from customers
New research from Circle K highlights the level of harassment that retail workers are subjected to from customers
31 January 2023
A high number (83%) of retail workers in Ireland have experienced incidents of harassment at work, with 68% experiencing incidents at least once a month.
Notably and of concern for the retail sector, of those who have experienced incidents of harassment, 70% of retail workers admit that their experience(s) of harassment from customers has made them consider seeking employment outside of retail.
The research commissioned by forecourt and convenience retailer Circle K*, surveyed 380 of its own colleagues working across its network of locations in Ireland and 500 people employed across a broad range of retail settings in Ireland.
The research is designed to highlight the issue of unacceptable customer behaviour towards staff in retail settings with Circle K strongly urging the public to consider the impact of their behaviour on retail workers.
The research results point towards what is a significant challenge for the overall retail sector in Ireland, which employs over 300,000 people** from a total workforce in Ireland of over 2.5 million.
Physical assault and verbal abuse
Physical assault is another serious issue which the research highlights with 50% of Irish retail workers having witnessed a colleague being physically assaulted by a customer.
Meanwhile, over four in five Circle K employees (83%) report witnessing customers verbally abuse colleagues. Another 69% of Circle K retail employees report that they have seen fellow colleagues experience inappropriate behaviour, such as verbal abuse, when dealing with customers.
Gender and race-based harassment
Almost a third of retail workers (28%) and almost a fifth of Circle K retail employees (18%) say the harassment they have experienced from customers was based on gender. A further 34% of Circle K retail employees say they have experienced incidents of harassment based on race.
“As Ireland’s largest forecourt and convenience retailer, we have seen this issue develop first-hand and while the vast majority of our customers behave appropriately, we are increasingly seeing incidents of unacceptable behaviour by certain customers towards our colleagues. Our research clearly demonstrates that this issue is not just confined to Circle K and is a challenge for the wider retail sector at large,” Commenting on the research findings, said Gordon Lawlor, managing director of Circle K Ireland.
“As a company, we care about our colleagues and are committed to creating an environment where they are treated correctly,” he added. “Being kind and respectful towards workers in retail settings should be the norm and, in our society, we really should not have to remind people of the need to behave in the right way.”
The retail sector “demonstrated its importance and played a key role in keeping the country moving” during the pandemic, Lawlor continued. “It is crucial that we recognise this vital role and encourage good behaviour by all customers towards those working in retail settings.”
Director of Retail Ireland, Arnold Dillon also decribed the level of harassment experienced by retail staff as “an enormous concern”.
“The survey highlighted some very serious issues, including incidence of physical assault and verbal abuse, that retail workers have had to contend with,” Arnold said.
“The consequences for staff are very real, including mental health issues, burnout and increased absence. At a time when there are labour shortages in many parts of the sector, it’s important that everything is done to make the sector an attractive place to work. We all have a part to play in supporting retail employees and together reducing the levels of harassment.”
In response to the survey findings, Circle K has launched a new initiative encouraging the public to consider the impact that their behaviour has on retail workers and to always treat them with kindness.
For more information on the initiative, visit circlek.ie.
*(Source: According to research of 380 Circle K retail workers and 500 customer facing employees across a broad range of Irish retailers)
**(Source: Ibec, 2022)
AT A GLANCE: SURVEY FINDINGS
- Three out of four Circle K retail employees (75%) and 83% of Irish retail workers have experienced some form of abuse from customers
- Another 69% of Circle K retail employees report that they have seen fellow colleagues experience inappropriate behaviour such as physical assault and verbal abuse when dealing with customers
- Half of Irish retail workers (50%) have witnessed customers physically assault a colleague
- Almost a third of retail workers (28%) and almost a fifth of Circle K retail employees (18%) say the harassment they have experienced from customers was based on gender
- 34% of Circle K retail employees say they have experienced incidents of harassment based on race
- 70% of retail workers admit that their experience(s) of harassment from customers has made them consider seeking employment outside of retail