Helplines and counselling services are available to help you and your staff get over serious incidents in your store. Tracy West reports

Coping in the aftermath of a crime can be a very isolating experience, particularly so for independent retailers who don't have the support of a head office. But there are ways and means of coping.

Doug Gill, who owns Doug 'n Di's in Stockport, has been the victim of multiple crimes. In the worst one, he had a gun pointed at him.

He says: "It took me about a year to get over it. I kept thinking I was okay but I wasn't; I'd suffered more than I realised. I went to my doctor but they were not much help. Then I went to Victim Support and they were very good.

"The lady I spoke to just listened, and that really helped. They also helped me with compensation."

Useful numbers
BACP 01455 883300 

Caravan Helpline 0808 802 1122 

Retail Trust Helpline 0808 801 0808 

Samaritans 08457 909090 

Victim Support 0845 30 30 900
Victim Support is the independent national charity for victims and witnesses of crime in England and Wales. Ian Firth, the charity's victim services manager in Nottingham, says: "The effects of crime can be devastating, and people react in different ways. Managers should keep an eye out for staff behaviour changes, and explore what may be behind them. Symptoms may include poor timekeeping, loss of sleep or even emotional breakdown at work. Someone who has been a victim of crime will often change their behaviour without realising it.

"Managers should try to identify members of staff who need help, and make everyone aware that they can contact Victim Support any time. Staff will need to be helped in different ways, but whatever suits them, it must be confidential. It is best to approach everyone separately and ask them if they would like to attend a support group, or if they would prefer individual help."

Regardless of the help and support available, some people will need time off work to recover. Firth says it is natural for small businesses to feel the need for a 'business as usual' approach after a crime, to keep money coming in, but believes this is a false economy.

"If staff are forced to go back to work at a crime scene too quickly, it may increase their trauma or distress and lead to bigger problems down the line, such as absences."

He says managers can make the transition from home back to work as easy as possible for employees by staying in contact with them and giving them options when they return. "Before the staff member comes back, managers should make sure they feel ready, and ask them if they'd like supervision from a colleague for the first few days, flexible hours, or time for support during working hours. The support they offer should be subtle and unassuming, but workers need to know who they can turn to."

Victim Support is not the only source of help available to retailers. In July, Caravan, the charity for the grocery industry, launched a helpline which includes a counselling service for critical incidents. Callers are asked to briefly recount, but not re-live, the incident with trained counsellors, who will be able to talk through ways of coping with the situation and help people deal with any related emotional issues.

A rising threat

The Retail Trust is a charity that looks out for the needs of everyone working in retail, from small stores to the big high-street names. Its dedicated helpline has seen a 57% rise in calls over the past year from retailers seeking advice.

Judith Gentry, clinical manager at the Trust says: "Statistics point to the fact that the number of people in retailing who feel threatened or have been threatened is rising."

How to spot whether staff have been traumatised
Typical signs of trauma include: 

-  Shock, denial, or disbelief 
- Anger, irritability, mood swings 
-  Guilt, shame, self-blame - Feeling sad or hopeless - Confusion, difficulty concentrating 
- Anxiety and fear 
- Withdrawing from others -  Being startled easily 

Source: Pinnacle Therapy
Gentry says it's not always just the person who was immediately involved who is affected: "There are observers and colleagues who come in later and are shocked when they hear the news. The management team will be affected, as their staff will look to them for leadership and guidance. The Retail Trust offers a really thorough and detailed service which is available to all those people."

Gentry advises that those affected should call as soon as possible after an incident. Every call is completely confidential.

"There's no such thing as a wasted call nothing is not serious enough. We'll take down the details, and then discuss them with our team to find out what will best serve the retailer and their employees."

She says sometimes simply talking to someone is enough. Other times people need face-to-face counselling.

Phillip Hodson, fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), agrees that not everybody will need professional counselling after an incident. "But if it's permanently etched on their minds, and they re-live it every time they wake up, they probably do. If they no longer feel safe in the shop, and have trust issues where customers have become their enemies, then they need help."

He says 60% of GP practices offer counselling, but this would be limited to a number of sessions. He recommends that anyone seeking counselling makes sure they go to a BACP member.

Then there are the cases where staff have been affected by an incident but don't think their manager is taking it seriously enough. "We provide information for line managers to help them understand what other people are going through," says Gentry. "People are affected differently in different ways and on different timelines. Some become quiet and withdrawn while others become a bit abrupt.

"The manager might have moved on, but staff might not, so we support line managers to spot the warning signs."

Talking it through

As Gentry says, sometimes all people need to do is talk. While family and friends may think they are doing you a favour by saying things like, 'It could have been worse' or 'Don't you think you should move on?', sometimes you need to share your thoughts with someone a bit more objective. The Samaritans is a good service to call. It is not a religious organisation and is not just for those who feel suicidal. It is manned by volunteers who will simply listen while you talk about how you're feeling. They can't advise, but they can listen.

Tony Scott, who has two Budgens stores in Oxfordshire, agrees that listening to staff after an incident is vital. "When we had a robbery we didn't seek outside help; we did it ourselves. I spoke to staff and listened to their concerns. Nobody wanted time off work. Some staff took longer to get over the incident than others, but we kept listening to them and reassuring them."

West Sussex retailer Steve Denham, who owns Cherilyn store in Pulborough, also decided to soldier on without professional help when he and his staff were threatened during a store robbery. Although no one was physically hurt during the incident, there was verbal abuse and staff were badly shaken up.

"We were aware of various support organisations but we didn't use them," he says. "We managed with the support of our customers. One was a former police officer who came in and gave us an insight into how the crime investigation would proceed, and that helped. The National Federation of Retail Newsagents' area manager also came and saw us a couple of times and we really appreciated that."

However you choose to deal with such difficulties, it is always worth bearing in mind that additional help is only a phone call away.