The Best Gift for Shop Staff Is Some Seasonal Goodwill; Shopworkers Are Often at the Receiving End of a Tirade of Verbal, and Sometimes, Physical Abuse - and the Christmas Rush Can Test the Goodwill of Shoppers to the Limit, Warns Conflict Management Expert Sean Colsey: WEDNESDAY ESSAY

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OVER Christmas an unbelievable number of separate tensions are inflicted upon us all at once.

There is a vast amount of food and drink to be bought and prepared, an unfamiliar influx of (sometimes unwelcome) guests, decorations to be put up and that's even before the biggest hurdle - shopping for presents.

By the time we've battled vast crowds, fought over the last Nintendo DS on the shelf and faced endless queues, it is no wonder our tolerance levels are at an all-time low. This year financial difficulties and the pressure to shop before January's VAT rise are likely to add to the strain.

While the shopping spree can be exciting or depressing, depending on which way you look at it, there is another side to the Christmas shopping chaos that largely goes unnoticed, yet deserves far greater attention - the abuse that shop workers suffer.

When the shops are at their fullest, shopworkers are often at the receiving end of a tirade of physical and verbal abuse as stressed out customers look to vent their frustrations.

According to Usdaw, the shopworkers' union, one in every 10 shopworkers has been physically assaulted while at work and, in the run-up to Christmas, incidents of this kind increase dramatically. Customers are stressed, stores are really busy and things can boil over.

While most shoppers are perfectly law-abiding, some think they can shout and abuse staff for no good reason.

The effects of any form of abuse in the workplace can be extremely damaging to the individual concerned. Usdaw claims over a third of its members reported that workers complained often or very often about ill health caused by their fear of violence and abuse.

This abuse can have a negative impact for employers too as it can lead to poor morale, making it difficult to recruit and keep staff, and increased absenteeism.

Usdaw runs an annual "Freedom From Fear" campaign in an effort to prevent violence and threats from affecting shop staff. The campaign aims to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour in shopping areas, raise awareness with the public that this behaviour is not acceptable and give shop workers the confidence to speak out.

It would be easy to condemn shop managers for not ensuring that staff feel safe and supported in their jobs.

However, the managers themselves are often the victims of abuse and are left with no guidance on how to tackle the issue. …