When the coronavirus pandemic broke out and sent us all into quarantine, I knew I didn’t want to sit at home doing nothing for months. So, after applying to the few places still hiring in March and April of 2020, I ended up employed at a large national grocery store. This being my first retail experience, I was not nearly prepared enough, but to be completely honest, all the experience in the world would not have prepared me for my time so far working as a grocery store employee during a global pandemic.
Because I started applying for jobs right as COVID-19 was starting to change everyone’s day-to-day lives here, I was one of the first new associates to join both my store and department, which made things difficult. Starting a new job is always daunting, but the common fears of the situation were amplified by the uncertainty that surrounded the pandemic. I ended up in the online grocery department, which before COVID-19 was a smaller team that dealt with only 30 or 40 orders per day. Business increased dramatically when everything started shutting down, and the department had to change its grocery picking and order dispensing protocols frequently to accommodate for increasing demand. Unfortunately there were never clear protocols in place on how to quickly train new associates, which resulted in a lot of gaps in my training. It was hard to get settled in my new workplace when I was stumbling trying to keep up with all the new department procedures while filling in the missing information from my inadequate training, but that’s something I just had to get used to because I haven’t seen much improvement even 10 months later.
After a month or two at the store I finally started to feel more comfortable in my role. Thankfully, the majority of my interactions with customers were surprisingly positive in those first few months. Most people, due to fear of virus transmission, were willing to comply with the various preventive measures throughout the store, such as following the one-way aisle arrows and social distancing from employees and other customers. Also helping was that essential workers, including grocery store employees, were receiving a lot of positive acknowledgement and support from the general public; it helped to feel like the customers entering the store cared about me as a human. We were definitely still very busy and encountered difficulties keeping up with demand at times, but as cases started to go down in the summer months, I was able to feel relatively safe and comfortable while at work.
Unfortunately the past three or four months have been very difficult to manage. Despite hiring new associates almost constantly through the pandemic, it still feels like we have nowhere near enough people to fulfill all of our responsibilities. Every shift I keep thinking, “I don’t get paid enough to be this stressed,” but it feels like nothing ever changes to make things better. Additionally, it feels less and less safe to be working in the store due to the decreasing adherence to preventive measures from customers. The number of customers going the wrong way down the aisles outnumbers those going the right way, and social distancing is almost non-existent. Every shift where I’m picking grocery orders, customers will violate my personal space; they lean against me or reach over me in ways that would have been inappropriate even before the pandemic, and that within the context of COVID-19 show a disregard for my well-being as well as that of other grocery store employees. I do feel like my store’s management team does a decent job trying to come up with new ways of preventing spread, but when customers don’t comply with the simple restrictions put in place to protect everyone, there’s not enough they can do. I’ve never felt less safe at work than I have during the past couple of months, and positive cases within my workplace have and continue to reinforce those concerns.
This pandemic has been hard on everyone, and I know that a lot of people are getting tired of having to follow all of these rules and restrictions; however, I really hope that you continue to take this pandemic seriously. Us grocery store employees are very burnt out and stressed. While the government may be easing us out of some restrictions, employee well-being is still very much at risk, and we deserve your respect.