A shop worker talks about working through a pandemic, and the impact on their mental health
I’ve worked in a small grocery store throughout the pandemic. We closed for a month last year, but the demand to open again was so high, we had no choice but to stock up on loo roll and let the people in. At first, it was stressful, masks, screens, disinfectant galore.
Everyone doing their bit to keep each other safe. There was minimal interaction and social distancing with colleagues, despite the size of the shop being roughly the same as a phone box. We truly did go above and beyond to help people and look after the most vulnerable shoppers, even packing their shopping whilst they shouted their list from the door - “eggs, milk, ooo and some of those nice biscuits!”. Everyone kept a distance, one in at a time, masks mandatory, only the essentials.
But gradually that started to change. Masks were left at home, sanitiser was neglected and “I promise we’re from the same household” became the new favoured greeting. As time went on, patience decreased, and unfriendly energy made its way into the shop on a regular basis. It must be said that not everyone is cruel. In the grand scheme of things, most people are kind and follow the rules. But occasional verbal abuse did rear its head more than before, and with a certain viciousness.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that people are frustrated and fed up. I am too! However, trying to remain understanding whilst being on the receiving end of those feelings is enough to make anyone feel small.
“What do you mean put a mask on? You can’t tell me what to do!”
“I’m gonna report you, this is a breach of my human rights! You are going to lose your job, mark my words.”
“One in at a time? I’m very busy and my day is much more important than you!”
On one particular occasion after asking them to put on a mask, a customer preceded to smash products, threatening to report me, personally, to the council.
I would come from work physically and emotionally exhausted. My days off were spent practising indulgent self-care to prepare myself for the onslaught of queues the next day. Whilst many of my friends were deep in lockdown boredom, I was burnt out. I went from seeing hundreds of faces a day to seeing no one when I went home. My job was to be the jolly face that got people through the day. I might be the only person they see all day. That’s an awful lot of pressure.
So please, next time you’re picking up a loaf of bread or a packet of eggs, remember the shop worker needs kindness too. Not everyone agrees with the rules, but we all need to wait our turn, put on our masks and keep our distance. The shop workers are trying just as hard as you to stay afloat in these hard times.
So smile, ask how they are and please, please, don’t go in on your phone. Be mindful and be present!