Over the past few months, a new winter viral wave – largely driven by highly infectious Omicron sub-variants – joined forces with a host of super colds, flu, and other respiratory illnesses to form a ‘multi-demic’.

While the term ‘multi-demic’ sounds like it could have been conjured up by a comic book villain, the reality is that this new wave of illness does have the potential to be incredibly destructive – particularly when it comes to wreaking havoc on Australia’s retail sector.

As those in the retail industry would know all too well, high rates of illness in the workplace, especially when large numbers of staff are sick simultaneously, can have a devastating impact on business. A high rate of illness can result in increased sick leave and absenteeism, reduced productivity, and emotional exhaustion and burnout amongst staff. 

From delivery drivers to warehouse staff, and store staff to IT specialists[i], the retail industry has been challenged by labour shortages at every turn. According to the Australian Retail Association, the sector has been harder hit than most, due to a drop in skilled migration and international students during the pandemic[ii].

Ongoing staff shortages ultimately prevent businesses from trading at their full potential, impacting their bottom lines and ability to meet boosted consumer demand.

As the country’s largest private sector employer, hiring more than 1.3 million Australians[iii], there are measures retailers can take to help break the sickness cycle and make work as safe as possible for their staff.

With most Australians (73%) reported to still prefer shopping in physical stores[iv], retailers need to prioritise hygiene; adopting a best-practice, 360-degree approach across the four core pillars of air, hand, surface, and washroom to protect both their employees and their customers.

As a bare minimum, it’s completely reasonable for employees to expect access to well-equipped, clean washrooms, and that the air they are breathing indoors isn’t dirty, toxic, or going to make them sick.

Air purification plays a crucial role in improving the quality of indoor air, particularly in spaces with high foot traffic or areas like washrooms, where natural airflow and ventilation – including opening windows and doors – is not always possible. In these instances, a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, removing most micro-particles including dust, pollen, mould, odours, and smoke from the air, can play a critical role.    

Choosing solutions which incorporate UV-C technology, such as VIRUSKILLERTM, is one way to provide an extra layer of protection, with the device proven to be 99.9999% effective against airborne viruses and pathogens, including Coronavirus*.

UV-C technology uses short-wave ultraviolet light to essentially deactivate viruses, bacteria, mould, and other pathogens that manage to pass through the filter system, preventing them from spreading.

Having an adequate hygiene protocol in place also positively impacts the wellbeing and mental acuity of staff, reducing time away from work due to illness and increasing productivity, staff retention and satisfaction.

Having better hygiene practices also creates an environment that employees want to be in. Post-pandemic, Australians understand that poor indoor air quality impacts their health, with more than 90% believing airborne pathogens present a moderate to high health risk, and almost three quarters (74%) believing businesses with poorly ventilated spaces need to do more to protect the public from airborne transmission risks.

So, when it comes to tackling the ‘Great Staff Shortage’ and restoring consumer confidence, businesses need to be taking a longer-term, strategic, 360-degree approach to hygiene to create healthier, safer retail environments – because the ‘multi-demic’ doesn’t seem to be disappearing any time soon.   

Andrew Stone is managing director – Pacific at Rentokil Initial.

*When independently tested against Coronavirus DF2 (a surrogate for Coronavirus), Adenovirus, Influenza and Polio, the unit was found to kill 99.9999% of viruses on a single air pass.

[i] https://www.retail.org.au/news-and-insights/6-ways-retailers-can-tackle-labour-shortages

[ii] https://www.retail.org.au/media/jobs-and-skills-summit-a-golden-opportunity-to-address-australias-economic-challenges

[iii] https://www.retail.org.au/media/retail-sales-reach-new-highs-but-cost-of-business-continues-to-bite

[iv] https://www.retailbiz.com.au/offline-retailing/australians-favour-shopping-in-store-despite-ecommerce-boom/