Coronavirus Made Me An “Essential” Worker

But Attitudes Towards Retail Workers Have Remained The Same

I’ve always worked in retail. From supermarkets to coffee shops, customer service is what I know. I also know how bloody hard it can be. So when I see or hear someone describing retail work as “unskilled,” or “easy,” it makes my blood boil, as this sort of ignorant assumption usually comes from someone who’s never worked a day in retail in their life.

Not all heroes save lives, some stack shelves

It’s been almost four months since the UK went into lockdown and “non-essential” businesses were forced to close. Suddenly, my colleagues and I found ourselves among a select group of occupations deemed “essential” to keep the country up and running during the pandemic.

Since lockdown began, I’ve witnessed some genuinely heartfelt moments between my colleagues and our customers. Numerous customers have stopped to thank me for continuing to work throughout the pandemic, whilst praising our hard work to provide as safe a shopping environment as we can. Some of my colleagues have been given flowers, chocolates or biscuits as a token of thanks.

Sadly, I’ve also been witness to my colleagues having their personal space completely disregarded. People reach over our shoulders when we’re filling shelves, only to look completely bewildered and annoyed when they’re politely asked to take a step back. Apparently, the concept of “social distancing” is foreign to some people, as was recently proven when a gentleman decided that the most appropriate way to get my attention was to tap me on the shoulder instead of using his voice.

Considering that the UK and its citizens have been bombarded with the message ‘Keep your distance, wash your hands,’ for the past four months, I must admit that I’m struggling to understand the difficulty that some people are having in following these very simple instructions. They call us unskilled because we work in a shop, but at least we can read.

To you, we’re just the ones trying to keep the shelves stocked so you can feed your families. But we have families too; families that we would very much like to keep safe. If you’d like to help us do that, the best thing you can do is:

  • Keep your distance
  • Be kind
  • If you need to get our attention or we’re in your way, a simple “Excuse me” works wonders.
  • If you’re going to wear a face-mask, make sure it covers your mouth and your nose. If you don’t, it isn’t going to protect you — or us — from anything.

If you can read those four points and confidently say that you do each of them, thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you don’t, let me ask: how would you feel if it was a member of your family who was filling those shelves? If it was your son, daughter, or significant other who was having their personal space invaded by complete strangers? I bet you’d behave a little differently.

We’re not your family. But we are somebody's family. And that should be enough.

Jon Peters is a 28-year-old writer from the UK who loves everything to do with the written word. If you’ve made it this far down the page, thanks for reading! If you’d like to read more from you me, you can reach my profile super quickly by clicking here. Happy reading!

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Trying to make the world a better place, one word at a time.

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