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Panic Buying and Clap for Key Workers: Tesco Colleagues Reflect on the Pandemic

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One year ago, the UK officially went into lockdown, I was working at Tesco Extra in Alloa. Two weeks before then, people were already bulk buying toilet roll, but whole families still shopped together too.

Before the panic buying, workers didn’t have much trouble. We had the occasional bad customer who abused us. Sometimes a manager or colleague could be insensitive, but for the most part, they were just normal workplace drama.

Were we stressed? Of course; I kept thinking, what if I get COVID? What if I give it to my older customers, the ones always with a kind word or a funny story? What if I kill someone just by breathing?

My colleagues all had and have worries like this.

Richard Louche who worked on the customer service desk with me said “My greatest fear of working right now is that I would catch coronavirus and pass it on to my family… More specifically my parents who are older and who have underlying health problems.”

Part-time customer assistant and tapestry artist, Louise Trotter said “I remember the worst bit being the panic buying… [it was] a very aggressive environment.”

At the checkouts, we had to tell a lot of people no. You can’t buy four cans of beans. Sorry no, we don’t have any more flour.

Customers even when not stressed are not always polite or kind. At that time, they could be brutal. It was not uncommon to be cursed at or have items flung in your general direction.

Still, almost all workers were happy when the government took action and initiated lockdown.

“I was happy that the government had taken action as my mum is in her late fifties,” another colleague Katie Cheshire said, “she also has mild asthma and Multiple Sclerosis. I wanted her to be as safe as possible.”

One thing that annoyed me, a grumpy man in his mid-twenties, was the clap for essential workers. To me, it felt performative to clap for a minute to thank workers while not paying them more than 10 pounds an hour.

If you want to thank me, give me more money, fight for better working conditions such as paid breaks, and don’t be on your phone when you come to my till.

My colleagues had different opinions. Katie Cheshire and Louise Trotter pointed out they didn’t feel deserving of the clap for essential workers while NHS staff workers were risking so much more and doing great work.

Richard said he actually liked the minute clap: “In all honesty I found the clap was a little motivating. It made you feel a lot [more] like the stress was worthwhile but [I] think more should have been done.”

Another worker at the desk, Jordan Syme said, “The clap was good to start with but after a few weeks it became almost pointless as it felt forced.”

Some customers were more helpful and understanding once lockdown started. I remember a kind woman who told me, “thank you for working for us. Thank you for taking the risk.” It was a particularly rough day and small words like these kept me going.

I asked my colleagues what kept them going in the really hard times.

Richard Louch said “knowing it would be over soon, having things like my big family at home and college… [I had] more to do than others which made me feel lucky.”

“My partner is a very calm and supportive force” Katie Cheshire said, “The routine of still going to work and looking forward to moving into our new place certainly helped as well.”

Jordan Syme pointed to humor and kindness as ways of dealing with the stress: “it’s easy to see the dark and endless lockdown, but to keep the laughter and joy that there is soon to be an end.”

“I was kept going by trying to keep the kids enthused, entertained, occupied and exercised!” Louise Trotter said, “At work there was a shared burden and huge amount of support at emotional points.”

It was the worst of times; it was the worst of times. I’m pretty sure that’s what Dickens would have written about the pandemic. Still, I am so touched to hear about the strength and kindness of workers and their families.

With restrictions beginning to lift in Scotland, hopefully, we can thank the people who kept the country running with better pay, better working conditions and even some kind words.

Featured Image Credit: Canva

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