“I’m essential:” working through quarantine

5 mins read

Hundreds upon thousands of jobs have been lost due to the coronavirus pandemic, lockdown forcing many businesses to close, some permanently. Some businesses that have been deemed essential however, manned by skeleton crews and bombarded by frustration and abuse.

Retail was already a difficult industry to work but for the staff manning stores and supermarkets, things have only gotten worse. I work at a hardware store. We were allowed to stay open because we sell vital tools and parts to tradesmen. Fair enough. However, most of our customers were furious people who wanted fence paint, enraged when they realised we had sold out.

The torrent of verbal abuse hurled at me is expected from those who are unable to get parts they need for vital trades jobs – it was not expected from busybodies who wanted to paint their decking.

Credit: Workday Minnesota

Had they not realised that I was risking my life? I was standing in the carpark with only gloves to protect me from the virus but nothing to protect me from the vitriol of customers.

It seemed as though some people had no idea what was going on: confused as to why they could not come into our store, why they had to order things online instead of paying by cash, why places were closed.

I did not feel essential. I felt abused, unappreciated and scared. I hated going to work. Hated hearing people swearing at me every day, spitting at my feet, purposefully walking closer to me even as I backed away.

Having worked retail for over a year now, and at a call centre before that, I was no stranger to angry customers: but this was another level. People were purposefully threatening me, making light of a virus that could kill me and my household – this just hit me on another level.

A whole world under quarantine for weeks can be frustrating, every one is in the same boat. There is no need to take it out on people doing their best to help you. I hate turning people away simply because they don’t have online access and therefore can’t place an order. I hate not being able to give refunds or help people get heavy items to their car. I take no joy in this either.

Credit: INSEAD Knowledge

It just astounds me how some people can be so self-centred in a time where the entire world needs to pull together. Is fence paint more important than the health of essential workers everywhere? It becomes hard not to see these things as personal. It takes no effort to be kind.

The smiles and the occasional thanks I receive from customers were sometimes all that kept me going. There were some days where all I wanted to do was quit. As it turns out I was far from the only one who felt this way:

Being classed as a key worker was actually a really nice feeling. I felt useful and it definitely motivated me. But on the worst days when I was shouted at, questioned or verbally assaulted my enthusiasm deteriorated and I would just go home. It wasn’t worth the money or weekly clapping sessions”. – Andrew de los Perros.

At that point in thinking it becomes easy to long for furlough, to hope that your company falls into bankruptcy and you lose your job. At the lowest points after hours of abuse I even hoped that I would become sick.

That is how it feels to be essential during quarantine. Morale with the staff is low, communication is lacking and tensions are high. The clapping for key workers and supermarket staff felt hollow.

As time has gone on things have eased. But the anger of people has not. Still people do not understand social distancing, scoffing as I walk backwards away from them, ask them to stop at the yellow line two metres away from me.

This is a time where we need to band together. Keep that in mind the next time you sigh at the queue at Tesco, worried you won’t be able to buy any loo roll.

Featured image: metromag

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