With a typical working week consisting of over 50 hours, supermarket employees have been subjected to unsafe and strenuous shifts that are mentally exhausting.
Chloe Weaver interviews a supermarket manager, Brian (not his real name), to find out what it is really like to work on the frontline during the coronavirus pandemic.
Answering the phone, the manager’s voice is clearly strained, and the interview takes a tense tone as they describe the stressful experience of being deemed ‘essential’ throughout the pandemic.
“Feeling unsafe at work is now the new normal,” Brian explained. “My daily routine has gone out the window, my schedule is hectic at the best of times, but now it feels like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders.
“some SEEM TO THINK THAT OUR UNIFORM RESULTS IN OUR IMMUNITY, BUT IT ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT.”
“The vast majority of customers are following the guidelines,” Brian said. But the members of the public who aren’t sticking to the rules are making the staff’s lives incredibly difficult.
“We are taking every step we can to mediate risks for both staff and customers, but the biggest recurring problem seems to be that customers will observe the 2 metre rule with each other but do not feel the need to do so with colleagues.”
“Some seem to think that our uniform results in our immunity, but it absolutely does not.” Staff have been self-isolating away from their families so they can keep coming to work.
“PPE IS A BIT OF A WORRY, AS WE DON’T HAVE A LOT PROVIDED IN THE FIRST PLACE.”
“A lot of my employees speak of their determination to keep doing their job and serve the community, despite their uncertainty and concerns,” said Brian.
“PPE is a bit of a worry for the staff though, as we don’t have a lot provided in the first place.” Brian has to make do with the tools he is given and try to spread masks and gloves evenly around the employees. “We always make sure that we have hand sanitiser in abundance.”
“For me, one of the biggest challenges is trying to keep people calm and morale up. I’ve found it’s best to try to act as normal as possible.”
But, understandably, it’s hard to keep a brave face when customers start to act aggressively. “My worst experience was a customer threatening to deliberately cough on a member of staff after they asked them to respect the social distancing rules. We ended up having to call the police.”
“We’ve had to increase the security in our stores”
If the aggression isn’t targeted towards the staff, it turns to other customers, “I’ve witnessed a number of people arguing over toilet rolls and pasta.”
“We’ve had to increase the security in our stores in order to make staff and customers feel safer and it has helped deter a few people, however we still have trouble.”
But Brian admits, the hardest part is simply not knowing all the answers. “There is no guideline or handbook on how to deal with a global pandemic.
“The older generation are by far the worst in my opinion. A lot of them seem to be stuck in their ways, they have their routines and the things they’re used to doing and it’s difficult for them to change out of them” says Brian. “That being said, the younger bored generation aren’t far behind when it comes to flouting social distancing rules.”
“We’ve had letters of thanks sent to the store.”
However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. The staff have received a lot of appreciation from customers.
“We’ve had letters of thanks sent to the store from local children and customers have even brought us chocolates,” Brian said. “I’ve had plenty of people stop me and express their admiration for everyone and thank us for what we’re doing.”
This kind of public reaction makes it much easier for the staff to find positives throughout these unprecedented times. “It’s easy for us to focus on the negatives but I have to say, this kind of response is incredibly heart-warming.”
“While we are key workers working in tough conditions, it’s nothing compared to what the NHS are doing.”
And this sense of community has inspired the supermarket employees to help other frontline workers.
“A member of the team mentioned that their mother works on a local COVID-19 ward and the staff still have to pay for tea and coffee. So, we decided to take £150 of our own budget, to provide them with refreshments and biscuits.
“While we are key workers working in tough conditions, it’s nothing compared to what the NHS are doing, they’re the true heroes and deserve all the credit and respect.”