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Loss Prevention, Stress, and Building a Resilient LP Workforce

Sponsored by American Public University

In loss prevention’s desire to improve solutions and enhance performance, it can be easy to forget about the dangers personnel face, especially those non-acute risks that can cause problems over time, such as harm to health and well-being from stress. “Leaders understand the need for productivity, but they also must appreciate that they can’t have that come at the expense of a loss in [their and their team’s] health and welfare,” said Anthony S. Mangeri, who serves as the director of fire and emergency management strategic relationships at American Public University System (APUS) and a faculty member for the School of Security & Global Studies. APUS is one of the largest providers of online higher education offering more than 200 academic programs to students enrolled worldwide through our two sister universities American Public University and American Military University.

Especially during this time of year, when so much emphasis is typically placed on meeting the theft prevention challenge posed by holiday shoplifters and fraudsters, employee resiliency can’t be ignored. “During times of increased stress, it’s important to recognize the need to have the right assets and resources in place to support staff. Failing to provide that can have a real, negative impact for those workers and their families—and that is connected to an entirely different set of costs for retailers,” explained Mangeri.

Stress is a year-round risk for retail security professionals, but it is amplified during the holiday season. “Days can be insane—moving people in, out, and around—but supervisors should remember to ask if they’re setting up their people for success or creating a concern because they’re not giving them the time they need to re-energize,” said Mangeri.

Providing support and resources to staff during the busy holiday season is only one element of a fundamental year-round goal that Mangeri believes all LP departments should be working toward: developing a resilient loss prevention workforce.

In his role with American Public University (APU), Mangeri has been working with first-responder communities—police, EMS, fire—in an effort to raise awareness of illnesses and other negative impacts, including suicide that can be associated with high-stress environments. The rate of suicide at work is higher among workers in protective service occupations—such as security officers, police, and fire fighters—than for any other occupational grouping, according to a study published in 2015 in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

Mangeri’s background includes work in the LP industry, and—although the stressors are often different than they are in law enforcement—he sees many of the same challenges. “Individuals can work ten to twelve hours in low-stress environments without much of an issue, but when you have a high-stress environment, in which the stakes are substantial and failing at a task can put people in harm’s way, as it is in LP, then it becomes complicated,” said Mangeri. “And that’s the same in LP as it is for other protective service and response occupations.”

Recent industry surveys, including one released last month by the National Retail Federation, have noted a growing amount of violence associated with retail theft. Those acute events can be a significant source of stress for LP workers. Even in the absence of crisis events, the stress of having to maintain a constant state of readiness, which LP officers need to do, can be cumulative, and result in health issues over time, according to Mangeri. “If you allow those stressors to build it can be a source of distraction, and that’s a problem when you’re relying on those individuals to be the gate keepers and the people you rely on in a crisis event.”

In their own way, boredom and repetitive tasks are also a source of a risk that needs mitigation. “Something like checking manifests, after doing it for so much time, the numbers start to roll together,” Mangeri explained. “So you need to provide time away from work or away from select tasks that is equivalent to the function, so that people are ready for their next responsibility.”

To combat risks, Mangeri said retailers should take actions at an organizational level, such as having leave policies that promote wellness rather than penalizing people for tending to their personal health needs, and at the LP supervisory level, including being sensitive to individuals who exhibit warning signs of being stressed out. He noted that those include:

  • Changes in behavior, personal hygiene, and eating habits—overeating, for example, or excessive weight loss or gain.
  • Inability to concentrate or think clearly.
  • Changes in personality, mood, or temperament. “Such as someone who has always been fantastic interacting with the people and then are withdrawn or angry,” said Mangeri. Or an employee who has always seemed relaxed and even-tempered but becomes anxious or overly worried, he added.

Mangeri says there are several aspects of building a resilient workforce that retail organizations and LP practitioners should consider. At the personal level, “it’s about personal health and welfare, and whether people sleeping right, eating right, staying fit, and taking care of themselves in a way that makes them ready for work.” If LP workers aren’t ready for duty, if they are over-caffeinated or exhausted for example, it can introduce risk into retail operations, Mangeri added.

“The second thing, as we become more technology-based and reliant, relationships become key,” said Mangeri. “Workforce management is critical; we need to be asking ourselves if we are interacting with staff sufficiently and interacting with them in the right way, and having healthy interactions, because that’s very important.”

Finally, ensuring a resilient workforce requires LP personnel to seek help when they need it and for the environment to support them when they do, said Mangeri. This includes providing workers with the skills they need to manage stress, such as learning about tactical breathing, how to process chaotic scenes, and ways to effectively manage difficult people and situations, as well as providing help through a company’s employee assistance program.

When its workforce is less stressed, retailers and LP departments benefit. A recent study by researchers at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, for example, indicated that stress reduction improves workers’ productivity, reduces absenteeism, and also seems to reduce the level of workplace conflict that can spark violence.

“It’s important to have a reliable workforce reporting for work, but you can’t allow yourself to be blind to issues related to stress. Having someone there who is stressed out has a negative impact on themselves and the rest of the workforce,” said Mangeri. “You need to build in time for people to care for themselves and to mitigate risk factors.”

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