June 10, 2020
Interviews & Inspiration | Lauranne Heres
Corona Diaries: Meet some of the people who have been thrown into the thick of it during the pandemic and find out what it’s been like for them while they’re either working to keep you safe or sheltering in place for fear of going out.
Lara*, early thirties, works for a big UK supermarket chain. She’s been a shop manager for over five years and has around 23 employees.
What was it like at the beginning of the pandemic?
The first three weeks in March were crazy, and we were doing ok at first, but then other stores had people go off sick, so we had to send our people there to help, and then you’re obviously doing overtime to cover the absence of those people. And it’s been exhausting having to restock safely and often.
What was the worst you’ve seen in people since it started?
It’s mostly been people complaining about empty shelves, people yelling at you because we were restricting to 3 items per person, then walking out with things because they were angry. I haven’t really seen panic-buying in my shop, but there are more people buying more things that they thought they’d need. Alcohol shelves were emptied, and it took a long time to go back to normal because the priority was food and so we were getting less drinks in.
Has it gotten better now?
It’s definitely better now with social distancing in place, there’s less people in the shop at any given time therefore you need less tills open, there’s less hassle. We’re still experiencing shortage on eggs, flour and oil, which people don’t understand so they get slightly aggressive. Fruit coming from Europe is also not as readily available as it would usually be because it has to go through checks and there’s less people doing farm work and fruit-picking at the moment. We’re also still low on hand soap and hand sanitiser obviously.
Have you or your staff been insulted by customers?
There are always customers yelling at you for one reason or another, so we’re used to that. However, one day someone called the shop, asked if I was the manager and then said, “You should die, everyone hates you, everyone you work with hates you.” That wasn’t nice. And we’ve had older people calling to ask for food, saying they can’t get a delivery slot, but they’re old and/or vulnerable and so can’t go out. But there’s nothing to be done from our end; they get frustrated, you get frustrated. If it’s really close we’ve brought shopping to someone, but anything further out we can’t. People cry because we didn’t have anything they needed as the shelves had been emptied out. It felt like you were denying food to people and that’s really exhausting, it makes you upset. I’ve come home and cried. My whole career is about helping the customer, but you can’t do that anymore and it’s really difficult to stomach.
Did the company provide you with masks, gloves? How long did it take to install all the protection there is now (the tape on the floor, the new plastic separations between tills etc.) We were sent masks and gloves, but there was no rule to wear since the government didn’t advise people to do it officially, so it was more to make people feel safer if they wanted to. Check-out screens were rolled out to 2000 stores in less than a week. Floor tape was done once, but does need to be replaced sometimes.
What do you think about people who accuse supermarkets of making a killing right now? Yes, back in March we had twice the normal sales at the start of lockdown, almost like Christmas, but all of that has had to go into modifying the shop to comply with new rules
We’re not making any more money, because we had to buy all the protective gear and cleaning products to keep you safe.
How hard are you finding social distancing while at work?
We get reduced breaks for the canteen and the office. Aisles are blocked off for restocking, but people are still walking in. Clients tend to social distance from each other, but not from the staff working at the shop. They often completely ignore colleagues, for example when they’re restocking items. A lot of them are still working with at-risk people and worry that customers are ignoring rules.
What do you think when you’re being called essential and a hero?
I’m sorry, but it’s just crap. Some people might like the idea, but I’m not an essential worker. People say thank you now, but what about before? Why can’t you be kind to me and my staff all the time? It feels like it’s just to make people feel better about themselves. When will things go back to “normal”? When will the goodwill end? There needs to be a reckoning of all the care workers, cleaners, doctors and nurses, essential workers. These people always get overlooked, it’s assumed that you don’t have an education, but actually you’re probably just a victim of the last recession. Usually I’m just the one paying their salary, but now I’m also meant to be their medical professional, they come to me with all their covid-19 related woes and all I can say is “I don’t know any more than you do, I don’t have any answers.”
*Name changed for anonymity
*Images, Pixabay, Pexels, Unsplash