Be patient and kind to workers

Published 4:35 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2020

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By Nathan Rice

I pulled into my parking space at work and put the car in park. Customers were already lined up outside my office, waiting for the doors to open. I laid my head back and took a moment to enjoy the end of the song that was playing on the radio. When the song ended, I put on my mask and headed inside to begin the workday.

I am sure it looked like a regular workday to anyone watching, but the truth was that I was tired.

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My office had been running with a minimal amount of staff for the past four weeks, so the amount of work I was expected to complete had doubled. I was behind on numerous projects, but the line of people waiting to enter the office made me realize I would only leave the day further behind than I began.

My mind wandered to the beach, where I had hoped to spend some days relaxing and playing in the sun. This week was my fourth attempt to take a vacation before the summer ended, but the shortage of staff caused every vacation I planned to be canceled.

I am grateful for my job. I know that I am blessed to be working, and I know many people would love to change places with me. My heart goes out to those who lost their jobs or who are still laid off due to COVID-19. That being said, may I speak for essential workers in the customer service field for a moment?

The last few months have left many essential workers in the customer service field exhausted. We have had to deal with everchanging conditions, wearing a mask eight hours or more a day, taking on additional duties, customers who feel stores are the best location for the debate over masks, and staff shortages. It has not been easy, and, like everyone else, we have to process and deal with the effects that COVID has brought to our country in our personal lives.

Essential workers in the customer service field have been adapting to changing conditions daily. Many workers are unsure of exactly what will be required of them from one moment to the next, and we are finding ourselves taking on duties that we did not expect. In many cases, we are learning as we go.

We also have to deal with customers who want to turn each visit to a store into a statement on the requirement to wear a mask or to give their thoughts on a national coin shortage. We understand everyone has an opinion on these issues, but our jobs are not to facilitate a political debate or to break up arguments between consumers. The cashier didn’t create the mask rule, and it’s not his or her fault there is no coin in the drawer.

I share this with you to ask two things.

First, be patient with associates when you visit. We know it is frustrating to wait longer than usual, but we are doing the best we can. We are trying to learn new structures and additional duties while following strict cleaning guidelines, and we are often working with fewer people than are needed.

Next, be kind to those who are helping you. The environment in which we work all day can be stressful, and we still have to deal with issues when we leave work, such as finding childcare and preparing for virtual school. The pandemic has created a stressful time for everyone, but we are on the front lines. Please, be patient and kind.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at