From shop assistants to hairdressers, healthcare workers - and everyone in between - Christmas is the busiest time of year. But that doesn’t mean it’s not lonely, says LONEALERT’s Sales & Marketing Manager, Mathew Colley.
For many, winter heralds a time for celebrations and get together with loved ones. But with ever-increasing seasonal pressures, extended opening hours and skeleton shift rotas - coupled with dark nights rolling in - Christmas can be a lonely time for workers from a full spectrum of industries.
Take retail as a prime example.
During the daytime/early evening consumer peak, you’d probably struggle to find a place quite as busy and bustling with people as a High Street supermarket than at Christmas time.
But there is another reality to working in retail over Christmas, and it is one that can genuinely be quite daunting.
In order to meet the huge customer demand over the festive period, opening hours are always extended. For a worker, this doesn’t necessarily mean longer working hours, but instead a shift in working patterns that can often mean working until after store closing at midnight.
Stores themselves can be a threatening place when the doors are open until late at night. They transform from being a hub of activity, bustling with busy shoppers, to huge empty spaces. It’s akin to describing that stunning country cottage in the middle of nowhere. Yes, it’s probably the most beautiful place to live whilst the sun’s shining, but when you drive past in the middle of the night, you comment: “I bet it’s scary living there”.
On top of this, at some stores, it is agreed that staff should not be allocated the closest parking spaces, instead having to choose from a selected number a short walk from the front door. In the summer, when the doors close at a reasonable hour and a full shift finishes at the same time, workers generally have company to walk back to the car and feel safe.
But with staggered shifts over Christmas and it being pitch black when the shutters come down, the walk back to the car can become an issue - and it is one countless retail workers comment on when the issue of lone working is raised. Even if there’s no dramatic ending - no abusive language, no threats, no attacks - the fact that workers could feel genuinely scared and vulnerable is enough for employers to take note. For a number of retail workers - whether they be on the shop floor, security, office or warehouse - Christmas time at work brings with it a feeling of vulnerability.
Then there’s health workers. For health workers in NHS departments already under huge pressure to treat patients in the face of tight budgets, winter can prove to be an incredibly stressful period of excessively long working hours and sometimes impossible demands.
Recently, a meeting of MPs on the Health Select Committee was told that NHS staff had been going into work voluntarily and unpaid to help hospitals cope with the huge demand brought about by a spike in death rates over winter months.
Winter contingency plans are executed in hospitals to cope with the soaring numbers of patients, often leading to the opening up of extra beds to cope, whilst for community nurses visiting patients’ homes, winter heralds increasing working hours in bitterly cold temperatures on dark winter nights.
It is not just the increase in potentially life-threatening illnesses that put increasing pressure on health workers but also the surge in accidents, trips and falls associated with the cold weather, including icy roads and pavements, as well as alcohol consumption.
For paramedics and frontline health workers, this not only means an increase in workload - but it also can lead to a spike in attacks by intoxicated patients.
Latest figures reveal that violence against NHS staff has rocketed over the past five years - with 186 attacks on dedicated doctors, nurses and paramedics every day. Figures show NHS workers were subjected 67,874 assaults last year - 13,000 more than six years ago - which will be of no comfort to the medical staff approaching the winter period when attacks traditionally rise.
Of course, the issue of lone workers during winter is not just limited to the retail and medical professions. Lone workers from every industry face their own issues during this period. Whether it be the hairdresser working late in the salon alone to cater for the extra clientele demanding to look their best for Christmas celebrations, the cleaner tasked with tidying up the office block after the festive party before the morning shift arrives, the factory worker keeping the business ticking over during shut down or the worker out in the field ensuring the crop of Christmas trees is looking its best.
It’s ironic that the busiest time of year for many business can actually be the loneliest for the people working in them.