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Grocery workers suffer mental health effects of customer hostility

By Brian Mayer, Melissa A Barnett, Mona Arora and Sabrina V Helm

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Grocery store workers in the US work thankless jobs, always taking lip, guff and sass for cruddy wages.

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 A young female employee chased me in a store earlier this year because I forgot to wear a mask. I was very embarrassed, and apologized, but there have been stories in the news of employees being punched for asking customers to do the right thing.

In the US parents walking their children to school while wearing a face mask have been accosted by protestors accusing the parents of "child abuse" for making their kids wear a face mask. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to have to deal with buttinskis like that in a retail setting.

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The mention of Australia is interesting. Since the beginning, Australia has been very strict about quarantines and travel restrictions, unlike the US. So, due to the pandemic, and in round numbers, 1 out of every 12,800 Australians has died due to the Covid virus, while in the US, 1 out of every 420 Americans has died from the Covid virus.

Seems to me that the management decision in Australia to take the pandemic seriously has saved a lot of lives.

By the way, the corresponding figures for Japan are 1 out of every 6,800 Japanese has died due to the Covid virus.

I can't imagine having to deal with the public during this crisis. A young female employee chased me in a store earlier this year because I forgot to wear a mask. I was very embarrassed, and apologized, but there have been stories in the news of employees being punched for asking customers to do the right thing.

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In Arizona, retail workers wear masks, but customers do not. Covid is over is the prevailing mood.

Over 2,000 people died yesterday in the US from Covid.

There isn’t much else to say.

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I'm a retail colleague in the UK, and I can confirm that working through the pandemic has been brutal, and customers have mostly made things worse rather than tried showing a little compassion. I hear people coming out with all kinds of conspiracy theories and all kinds of excuses for not wearing a mask. Even those that do wear masks tend to wear them wrongly, or else wear the same single-use mask for so long it turns brown. I can't ask customers to wear masks because they get extremely hostile. I can't not ask them to wear masks either because the customers who do wear masks get extremely hostile with me. It's a case of heads I lose, tails I lose.

When we had social distancing measures in place, only about 5% of customers would follow it. Less than half would use hand sanitiser as well. A huge amount of customers also seemed to think it was a good idea to slather their fingers in saliva when counting cash before handing it over. During a pandemic involving a virus that lives on surfaces for extended periods. Genius. Another challenge is that Wales (where I live) didn't strictly follow the same lockdown rules as England, usually entering lockdowns sooner and exiting them later, and keeping masks mandatory in public spaces for much longer as well, so when we get tourists from England, they follow England's rules instead, and get angry with us in Wales for not being the same. To add further harm is the fact that the summer holidays this year brought a 3rd wave of COVID to Wales, pushing local infection rates to the highest in Britain and we're still trying to bring cases down.

It was also pretty difficult for many of my colleagues and I once the vaccines started rolling out. Even though we were classed as Essential Workers, we weren't given priority for vaccinations. We instead had to watch and wait while non-essential workers, many of whom barely followed COVID guidelines if at all, got their first shot or even their second shot in many cases before we could get our first one. It felt like a double standard to us. We were essential enough to work right through the pandemic for what amounted to a pat on the back, but not essential enough to get vaccinated ahead of anti-maskers and COVID conspiracy theorists. A lot of colleagues I worked with ended up quitting because the situation was just too much for them to handle. Others had to take weeks or even months off to recover from the stress and avoid a nervous breakdown. I myself had to take 5 weeks off to try and come to terms with losing a relative and 3 friends, and almost losing a 4th friend, to the virus. I would have taken longer if I could have financially afforded it, but just those 5 weeks almost bankrupted me as it was, so I was still in a bad way once I returned.

Even as things gradually shift towards normal, the situation isn't improving. Retail colleagues are still getting abuse daily for things they have no control over, and all we get from head office is "try not to let it get to you." I'd like to see them accomplish that when getting punched in the face, but the people who work in head office have never once worked in an actual store, so they're massively detached from reality.

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An interesting topic of conversation, interactions with customers. Not everyone is cut out for it.

I had a job dealing with the public for several years, and it had its ups and downs. Some people were wonderful to deal with, even enriching my life, and others were a threat to life and limb. One meets all kinds of people when dealing with customers. While I treasure my memories of the good people, on balance, I was relieved when I no longer had to deal with the public.

BTW, I met many movies stars and famous people at that time, and it was a lot of fun. Ninety-nine percent of the time, famous people were a delight to deal with. I played a joke on Paul Newman one time, which made him laugh and Joanne Woodward grimace, on a different occasion, Cary Grant played a joke on me. Got a chance to go to Robert Culp's house one time, and help him out with a problem. He was very gracious. Lots of good memories.

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