Cohorted Cult bring you real-life interviews from those working directly on the front line during the Coronavirus pandemic. Introducing Emily, a Supermarket Checkout Team Leader working throughout COVID-19. Stay Safe, #StayHome.
1. Background Information: Name, Age, Job Role
My name is Emily, I’m 19 and I’m a Checkout Team Leader.
2. What made you want to be a supermarket worker?
I started working at Morrisons when I was 17, just as a part-time job whilst studying for my A-Levels. At the time, I wanted to work in a supermarket because I hated waitressing in pubs and restaurants. The job I had right before I moved to Morrisons, I used to cry before my shifts because I hated it that much; the staff weren’t very nice, and the customers were even worse. My supermarket part-time job was perfect and when I started university at Leeds Beckett, they transferred me over to a store in Leeds, which I am still at 2 years later.
3. What is an average day in your job role?
I can honestly say, there is no day at Morrisons which is the same. In my first year, I was till trained on the checkouts, which is what my initial job role consisted of. I then moved to Morrisons, Kirkstall and they have me doing everything! I have become well trained over the past 2 years in most areas of the store, which is beneficial to me as I can be used anywhere. My main department is working on the checkouts, where I have recently been promoted to a checkout team leader! This includes managing the staff on the checkouts, organising breaks, returns, counting the tills and generally handling money from the ICH systems. I am learning something different each day, which is making work–life interesting for me. Another big part of any job role is handling customer queries, whether it be serving people on the tills or on the shop floor. My shifts are completely varied as my availability is so flexible, I am often doing 10-13-hour shifts which as you can imagine, can get very tough.
4. What is the new reality of working on the front-line as a supermarket worker in the current climate?
Working in a supermarket during COVID-19 is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. Every single day there is something new we must put into place or trial to see whether it works for safety purposes. I think some customers seem to forget that us employees are just following what we have been told whether it be something we agree with or not. Not only do we have to cooperate with the government guidelines, but COVID-19 has also tested our communication and teamwork skills between us colleagues. Something which took me by surprise is how rude customers are being towards members of staff; The public seems to think that supermarket workers are either invisible or exempt from Coronavirus. During the start of the pandemic, the panic buying was outrageous, to the point where before anyone had time to stock items, the shelves were emptied within 30 minutes of the store opening at 7 am. It has been a gradual process and a long 3 months, but we are all getting used to the new reality and trying to do our own jobs the best we can.
5. Have the PPE shortages personally impacted the way you work/ people around you?
Working for a company like Morrisons has been about patience. No-one is a miracle worker, not even the CEO of Morrisons can magic 1000s of bottles of hand sanitiser overnight. Now we have been provided with masks, gloves and as much hand sanitiser as we could possibly need. The masks and gloves are optional, so I personally don’t wear them and focus on using hand sanitiser, making sure I am always nipping off to wash my hands. It has, however, impacted the way people around me work as there are a few older individuals that are very cautious of the PPE and the 2-metre distance. For me personally, I am just cautious to keep washing my hands and keep them clean. A lot of people don’t realise that working in a supermarket makes it impossible to stay 2 meters away from everyone. The things the public don’t see is us unloading deliveries, working in the warehouse, cleaning tills, stocking shelves, changing displays and doing online learning.
6. What have been the most difficult/ most personal moments for you?
The start of the pandemic was the toughest for me, without a doubt. No-one knew how to react, what to say, what to do and what not to do; it was very challenging. Talking to customers and hearing their stories and how it‘s affecting them has brought me to tears a few times whilst on the checkouts. I met one incredible man that queued up for my till and I overheard him telling people what he was buying for his wife and when I served him, he told me the same and it sparked a conversation; His wife was in a care home to which he was only allowed to visit her for one hour a day. They had spent every day with each other for the past 50 years and he was buying all her favourite treats. He was so friendly and I could tell how worried he was about what was to come in the upcoming weeks. Although he was in a rush to go and see his wife, he still managed to pause for 2 minutes and say how grateful and thankful he was for all of us working and still turning up. He said the country wouldn’t be running without people like me and it made me very emotional and made all the hours at work seem worth it. This short conversation with a man I’d never met before really hit me as to how COVID-19 is affecting people from all walks of life.
7. Have there been times where you have wanted to do more, but have been held back due to lack of resources?
There have been many times when I have been at work and questioned whether we are doing enough and got frustrated by this. There was a time during the beginning of the pandemic, where I was working a cage on the shop floor and an old woman approached me asking me where the long-life milk was. I walked with her to the aisle where it usually is and 2-3 shelves were completely bare, there was nothing left. The woman looked so shocked and upset and she explained to me that she can only come out certain days and at certain times of the day, as she is just starting her course of chemotherapy. I could’ve cried there and then in front of her, but I held myself together. All I wanted to do was give her a big hug and magic some long-life milk for her, but there was nothing I could do apart from apologies. Later that night, I sat and cried when I got home. It’s alright for people who can run to the shops at 6:30 am to get 40 toilet rolls, but what about the ones that have no choice but to go without?
8. With that said, have YOU had any rewarding moments which helps motivate you?
There have been weeks where I have worked 60 hours due to overtime. This sounds tiring but when I get my payslip at the end of the month, it makes me feel proud of myself in comparison to this time last year; I was working 16 hours a week and just getting by with my wage. Every time a customer thanks me for turning up to work and pays interest into my day, it makes me motivated to do more for all the polite people out there. For everyone rude customer, there are always more polite ones. Of course, I can’t forget my promotion! That was the most rewarding thing at this time for me, making all those times I came home from work and fell straight asleep as I physically couldn’t keep my eyelids open, seem worth it.
9. How is the pandemic influencing your home life?
My home is in a town called Burton- Upon Trent, not far from Derby. I am still living in my house-share by myself, whilst I continue to work. This has made my home life tougher each week, as I now haven’t seen any of my family for nearly 3 months which is way longer than I would’ve left it before. I am still trying to get some sort of routine going and to figure things out. Quite often I just have ready meals or something quick for my dinner as I am too tired to do anything. But week by week I am getting the hang of this working life, but I need to remember I’m a 19-year-old girl, life is always full of complications with or without COVID-19!
10. What do you do to maintain your self-care routine, to encourage relaxation at the end of the day?
One thing I have done religiously is facetime my friends every single day and keep in close contact with my family. One of my best friends works in the beauty and skincare industry, so I purchased some goodies she recommended for me and I’m now getting into a good skincare routine to make sure I am looking after myself; The Elemis products I am using are really helping my skin! Nothing beats a long soak in the bath after a long shift, with a glass of wine whilst browsing through pages of clothes. I’ve kept in touch with my friends doing virtual quizzes which are a good laugh! I am currently working through a list of films I have been recommended on Netflix which should keep me going throughout isolation.