This was going to be a rant. Out of frustration, I was prepared to write a long-winded, blathering post about a jerk manager pulling a misinformed power play during a global pandemic.
But not today.
Because I get it.
I know you didn’t sign up for this, to be a front line middleman during a global pandemic. When you rose up through the ranks of the grocery store employing you, you were prepared to deal with late orders and shipment issues. You could handle customer complaints about the freshness of the zucchini. You knew the ins and outs of scheduling and customer service and employee relations.
You didn’t imagine you’d be an essential service during the rampant spread of a virus killing thousands across the globe. Maybe you sat in on a meeting once where it was mentioned, but you, like most people, never believed it would come.
But it did.
You didn’t expect to look your employees in the eye and tell them they needed to work extra hours because disinfecting every surface over and over was the only solution Corporate gave to control the spread in your store.
You didn’t think you’d be threatened by customers because the stock of toilet paper you’ve ordered for years couldn’t keep up with a strange insatiable demand the public suddenly had when a respiratory pandemic hit.
I know you left work one normal day a few weeks back and returned hours later in the position of Essential Employee. And I know you, like many, were blindsided by the speed with which it occurred.
I know you’ve received the orders from Corporate: No Masks. It scares the customers. And I know you had to tell the new cashier to take hers off. And the two young guys stocking shelves.
I know, as this pandemic spreads, you’re caught.
Because Corporate isn’t on the floor, yet they make decisions affecting the safety of your staff. And you’re trapped.
You may lie awake at night and think about how you wish you could have instituted a mask policy weeks ago, when those plexiglass shields came in. Because you’ve seen your older cashiers shrink back every time a customer breaches the government mandated distance.
Maybe you considered having a ‘Crazy Mask’ competition among your employees to get them on board, to ease the growing tension in the staff break room. But Corporate said No Masks.
I know you told your staff weeks ago a few things would change, but they would be safe. It would be fine.
And some rolled their eyes, because the virus wasn’t a big deal. A few nodded, believing you because why would Corporate risk the lives of their employees. Some were silent, because they knew this wasn’t going to go away, this wasn’t a minor speed bump.
You explained to the 18 year old stocker she had to take her mask off. Yes, you know she has older relatives living with her family. But she’ll be fine.
And she was reluctant but she obeyed, because she needs the job and she trusts you. After all, you’re older. Wiser. And she needed to hear someone say it was okay, she was safe.
But she doesn’t make eye contact with you anymore. When she does glance your way, there’s a hostility on her face you didn’t see before.
You’ve promised the cashiers the plexiglass is their best protection, along with the disinfectant spray placed at their station. Corporate orders and all.
But you’ve heard them ask masked customers where they got them, how they made them.
You didn’t sign up to tell mothers of five the pasta limit is 2. You didn’t realize you’d be calming an angry older man venting about the One Per Customer limit on chicken.
Maybe you thought COVID-19 was overhyped in the beginning. Maybe you still do. But your heart stopped for a moment when your wife began coughing last night.
She swallowed her tea wrong. This time.
Maybe you didn’t realize how angry customers would become when you had to limit the number of people in the store, leaving long lines standing outside.
And so you beefed up security.
But then the customers came in, and many didn’t understand the new rules. They stood too close to others. Touched the fruit too much. Coughed into their hands.
And so you beefed up security again.
But it’s not enough.
The virus is coming.
Maybe the thought keeps you up at night. Maybe you walk into work every day waiting for the call.
“One of your employees has tested positive for COVID-19.”
You’ve seen the news. You know other stores have shut down because the virus reached them first. You have the Corporate plan for infection. On paper, you’re ready.
But you know the clock is ticking.
Will it be the in-store shopper putting in double time to run orders out to the cars of customers afraid to come in?
Maybe the new girl saving up for a car who took three extra shifts even though she’s had to move to online schooling for her grade 12 year.
It could be the smiling woman working the deli counter who cringed away when a customer sneezed.
Might be you.
Because you’ve been in the floor, too. You’ve stocked shelves and ran orders and answered call after call. You’ve negotiated hundreds of complaints, from the length of the lines at the tills to the lack of selection in the flour aisle.
And don’t get started on the Yeast Seekers.
So, grocery store managers, I get it.
You’re trying to survive in a reality none of us were prepared to face. You’re caught between the demands from above and the fear down below. You don’t make the decisions, you’re the face of the decisions.
But I will say this.
This morning, I was angry. I was angry because one of you chose to make the job of another Essential Worker like yourselves more unsafe. You were petty. Condescending. A true Karen, if you will.
And so, to this one grocery store manager, remember this: Be kind. Be understanding. Give others a break during these unprecedented times. Remember many of us understand the strain and stress you’re facing, we will give you a break in turn. Because we are facing the same fears and worries.
This was your break.