Confronting Safety and Security Risks in Transitional Times

Safety and security incidents that can damage a retailer’s reputation and dampen profits often result from change that outpaces the implementation of controls. It is one reason that loss prevention leaders must strive to improve collaboration between security, operations, store managers, technical staff, and senior management. The ability to meet rapid change safely and securely is central to a retail organization’s ability to use loss prevention to competitive advantage.

Effective change management is critical in transitional times—and one need only to look at the top security threats facing retailers for evidence of how quickly things are evolving. In a survey of security managers and directors from Fortune 1000 companies by Securitas, many of the more pressing security issues in 2021 weren’t even on the radar three years earlier (see the figure below).

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COVID-19 is the most obvious example—coming out of nowhere to become the top threat in 2021—but other threats have also become major problems in a short span.

  • Social unrest was identified by retailers as the second greatest security threat in 2021 but was ranked number 18 in the company’s previous survey in 2018.
  • Executive and employee protection was the number three risk in 2021; it was ranked 22 in 2018.
  • Workplace violence prevention jumped to a tie for fifth; it was ranked 11th in 2018.

Change impacts the threat environment as much it does consumer shopping habits. Any sort of internal or external turmoil can wreak havoc with a retail organization’s safety and loss prevention record. Many safety directors, for example, say they believe that times of transition—such as during a rapid expansion or downsizing—demand being on high alert.

Doing Better in the Battle Against Change

Loss prevention teams are likely to confront safety and security issues in transitional times. Periods of upheaval are commonly reflected in higher rates of employee absenteeism and may also show up in shrink rates. Regardless of the source of change—be it a leadership change or a global pandemic—good “change management” can help to minimize negative consequences.

The question is: How can you combat the potential health, safety, and security risks created by stressful workplace changes?

According to experts presenting at a recent national safety conference, leaders need to base their change management strategy on a solid understanding of how changes affect employee attitudes, and to then examine processes with these new attitudes top of mind.

The emotional implications of change need to be evaluated as part of loss prevention change management, including repercussions related to:

  1. Declining morale. When employees don’t feel appreciated, they are less likely to follow rules—even those in their best interest. Persuading senior managers of the need to increase communication during times of upheaval provides the best opportunity to combat this phenomenon.
  2. Rising fear. A time of meaningful change is often associated with a fear of losing employment, which can distract workers and divert their attention away from safety and health issues and increase the temptation to steal.
  3. Declining accountability. Management tends to be less available during periods in which it is reacting to major internal or external change. Additionally, change is often a precursor to vacuums in key operational positions. Loss prevention directors should frequently assess worker attitudes toward accountability in times of transition.
  4. Sense of being overwhelmed. Not all employees react positively to changes that impact their work structure or workload. Some workers resist change and will resent company management for it. Implementing changes over time can reduce their negative impact.
  5. Confusion and frustration. Stressed employees can lose the ability to manage even basic tasks, and potentially resulting in worker injuries while performing simple job functions, or errors that can impact shrink rates.

Other potential pitfalls from change include:

  • Workers may fear “causing trouble” during times of uncertainty, which could result in a failure to report near-accidents, mistakes, or problems that could result in injuries or loss.
  • Sudden demands for increased productivity, which can place workers at increased risk of injury. For example, staff reductions that put more work on remaining employees can manifest itself psychologically in the form of depression, burnout, or breakdowns; behaviorally in the form of workplace violence; or physically in the form of heart attacks, hypertension, or psychogenic problems.
  • Employees being forced to perform new job tasks for which they do not have sufficient training.
  • Disruption in existing systems designed to enhance safety or security, such as elimination of a “buddy system” used to ensure safety during dangerous tasks or for fraud prevention in financial transactions.
  • Failing to meet equipment maintenance schedules.

Navigate Changes Safely

Whenever retail employees are facing significant changes, it is important to audit the change management process to ensure safety is being adequately considered. Below are some questions that a change management audit might ask:

  • Has there been a change in the principal organizational structures which facilitate the reporting and handling of health and safety cases? Or is the same “tried and tested” procedure still in place?
  • Has management adequately communicated a concern for safety issues to employees before, during, and after the transition?
  • Do staff interviews during and after a transition indicate a similar level of commitment to safety and security issues?
  • Have enough technical experts been retained to address operational difficulties that could impact worker safety or security?
  • Is there a clear definition of the requisite skills needed in-house to maintain safety?
  • Can managers identify the potential effects of changes on worker safety? Are they finding the time to look for them?
  • Have changes in employee structures been matched with a change in the definitions of individuals’ roles and responsibilities?
  • Has overtime been used excessively—and to dangerous levels—during periods of change?
  • Are preventative maintenance schedules being met? If not, has management been asked for the support necessary?
  • Have increases in workloads diminished the time available to address safety and security issues?
  • Is there an accurate record of the number of hours staff is working during the period of change?
  • Is there an assurance that all staff members have a clear understanding of their revised responsibilities, changes in methods of work, and any additions to their workload?

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