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Vector illustration, the problem of bullying, a man sits on the floor surrounded by people mocking him.

I’m sure the potential outcome of the upcoming General Election will remain front of mind for many of you right up to the final whistle. However, while the Institute looks forward to engaging the next Government on a range of issues post-July 4th, the calling of an election has also had immediate-term implications for the current policy agenda.

The dissolution of Parliament yesterday has put a halt to business in the Commons for the next six weeks. And whilst all legislation that goes through parliament deserves due consideration, it was a particular blow to see that the Criminal Justice Bill had been included on The Guardian’s list of those likely to get cut short.

The likelihood is, then, that the Government’s proposed amendment to the Bill to better protect retail workers from abuse won’t make it into law.

Protecting our vital public-facing workers

This amendment aligns with the third pillar of our Manifesto for Building a Service Nation. However, while the protection of retail workers is essential, our Manifesto goes further. We hope to broaden the conversation, and ensure that all service workers, not just retail, are protected from abuse and hostility at work.

The Institute has long-fought against the abuse of public-facing workers through its Service with Respect campaign which, in 2022, pushed the Government to amend its Sentencing Bill and make assaults on public service workers an aggravated offence.

Despite this, there remains a crucial need to further drive down the number of staff that experience abuse across all sectors. In May 2023, 42.4% of workers across multiple sectors told the Institute they had experienced abuse in the six months prior.

Because of this, we not only believe that the next Government should, as a priority, re-introduce a review of the Bill during the next Parliament. We are also calling on Parliamentarians to go further, by bringing in guidance for the recording of crimes against front-line workers – across every sector, not just retail – as soon as possible.

The human and business case for protecting service staff

Any form of abuse levelled at a public-facing worker is unacceptable, not least because of the mental and physical toll it undoubtedly takes on the individual. Our data, based on the Institute’s quarterly Service with Respect tracker, revealed in November last year that 20% of workers facing hostility went on to take sick leave as a result.

Furthermore, with 31% of customer-facing staff considering leaving their role following customer hostility, the negative impact such abuse can have on an employee’s psyche and morale is plain to see.

But the issue goes beyond the individual. Abuse of customer service professionals is impacting staff productivity through increased sick days and resignations. Our data also shows that, on average, nine days are lost per year due to customer hostility.

Unsurprisingly, this dip in productivity is directly diminishing the quality of services delivered to customers, hampering both business performance at the bottom line, and economic growth.

Because of this, implementing more effective frameworks to record and protect our staff from incidents of hostility and abuse is essential – not only to safeguard individual wellbeing, but also to drive business and economic growth through higher productivity.

Building on our progress

In November last year, the Institute published an open letter, signed by over 55 CEOs, business leaders and Parliamentarians, calling for the Government to ensure assaults on service workers across every sector are better recorded.

The Institute maintains this commitment to making strides against the unacceptable levels of hostility faced by customer service staff. I hope that by calling for better guidance on recording incidents of abuse, we can encourage the next Government to build on recent progress, and implement better safeguards for the UK’s essential frontline workers – across all sectors.

Jo Causon

Jo joined The Institute as its CEO in 2009. She has driven membership growth by 150 percent and established the UK Customer Satisfaction Index as the country’s premier indicator of consumer satisfaction, providing organisations with an indicator of the return on their service strategy investment.

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