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Supermarket shifts: bad for mental health?

Supermarket shifts: bad for mental health?

The restrictive part-time and zero-hour contracts that UK supermarket staff are often employed under could be bad for their mental health, according to a new study.

Alex Wood and Brendan Burchell of the University of Cambridge's sociology department investigated how such contracts can affect employees during a year-long study at an unnamed supermarket, the Observer reports. The two academics observed staff on the shopfloor and carried out interviews with workers and union representatives.

The study found that supermarkets often offer employees so-called flexible contracts, but these can involve awkward set hours or ever-changing working times, making it difficult for staff to juggle other aspects of their lives.

Mr Burchell said: "Workplace flexibility is thought of as helping employees, but it has become completely subverted across much of the service sector to suit the employer and huge numbers of workers are suffering as a consequence."

One anonymous employee interviewed as part of the investigation said they struggled to work the hours determined by the store and had been reduced to tears due to worry about the future of their job, children and mortgage.

This was not the only report of distress though. Some employees were found to be experiencing high levels of anxiety and even mental illness brought on by the stress over their irregular and unstable working hours.

Mr Burchell said: "Much of the misery caused is probably through incompetent scheduling and management not realising the way they are controlling workers' lives."

The study authors added: "It's affecting psychological wellbeing to an extent that no one is grasping."

Mr Wood and Mr Brucknell believe that new government legislation needs to be introduced to tackle the issues surrounding so-called flexible employment among big businesses, to ensure the wellbeing of workers is placed as a priority.

However, they recognise that with high levels of unemployment and an uncertain economic landscape, current workers could be let go and replaced with others willing to work the set hours reasonably easily.


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