In the wake of the riots, it’s crucial to focus not just on physical repairs, but on supporting employees, says Nicky Little

In the wake of riots and looting, many grocery retailers are dealing with a situation they have never had to face before. Most are focused on the practicalities of returning to normality: cleaning up, repairing damage, restocking, claiming insurance.

In the midst of disorder, it’s also critical that leaders focus on the emotional wellbeing of employees. The UK’s major grocery retailers remained resilient during the chaos, despite a number of stores, such as Aldi’s Tottenham branch, being burnt down as well as looted. Aldi, like all the big supermarkets, expressed relief that nobody was harmed in store attacks. Sainsbury’s said the “safety of customers and store colleagues is paramount”, and Tesco said it had been “impressed with how staff are getting on with things”. Concern for staff has clearly been of the utmost importance.

However, staff don’t only need support at the height of chaos they also need ongoing assistance. The Retail Trust Helpline has reported record numbers of calls from employees who are struggling to cope. What can leaders do to help?

This challenging situation calls for a holistic approach. Leaders need to empathise with employees and offer reassurance. This should be an active, two-way process. As well as broadcasting messages, it’s important to take time to listen and respond to particular concerns.

Looking after employees also has a positive impact on another important group of people customers. Although customers tend to be understanding and forgiving at times like this, they are also highly likely to turn to competitors. Reassuring employees and involving them in future plans can also help them to re-engage customers.

As well as focusing on urgent priorities, this is a time to be visionary. Leaders can help employees understand what to aim for and engage teams in a common purpose.

These are tough times, and leaders need courage. They will have to make some bold decisions. However, it’s important to remember that people are the heart of any successful retail business, and many need help to recover as much as bricks and mortar need repairing.