Izzy*, 19, is a trainee supervisor at a supermarket, working tirelessly to deal with the demand brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic. Here, she shares her experience of how her workplace is coping.
[Note: as strict lockdown measures have been implemented, supermarkets are now introducing new rules to limit customer proximity. These facts were correct at the time of writing].
"I take a deep breath as I prepare to unlock our shop doors at 10am. Every day, it's like opening the floodgates. There are usually already about 20 people queuing - a number I'm expecting to increase as the days go on - and from the moment we open we're busy for three hours, non-stop. By 10:25am, we run out of toilet roll. By 12pm, most of our chilled food is gone. By 4pm, most of the frozen food and groceries is, too. And that's despite limiting all items to three per person (with toilet roll and milk being limited to two).
There's a lot of talk about stockpiling on the internet, but I don’t think the empty shelves are just down to bulk-buyers, especially as we are now limiting how much people can buy. For a few days we were having less food delivered, but I'm not sure why: it might be because workers in the warehouse are self-isolating, or that they're struggling to get hold of overseas items, or perhaps warehouses are just limiting what they send out. In recent days, however, our deliveries have slowly started to increase again, which feels reassuring. I hope it stays that way.
With cafes and restaurants closing, people are relying on supermarkets much more than they were before, which also contributes to all our stock being bought. Everything that we are getting in goes straight onto the shelves. There's nothing left to go upstairs as backstock, which is completely unprecedented. When the food on the shelf is gone, it's gone.
As there's nothing for us to restock shelves with, if we're not on the tills then a huge part of our job is to walk around the store telling customers what we don't have (no toilet roll, no pasta, I feel like a robot on repeat) and reminding them of the three-per-person limits. I've had customers begging me for food to feed their kids, or for medicines like Calpol, but there's nothing I can do when the stock just isn't there.
It feels absolutely horrendous to tell people they can't bring food home to their children. When people ask, I know rightly that we have absolutely nothing left. But sometimes I pretend to check the stock room and stand on the stairs for a minute, just to give them some peace of mind.
It breaks my heart to see elderly customers struggling. The other day, a sweet old woman asked for long-life milk. We had none left but she was going into self-isolation for three weeks and told me she wouldn't be able to get any otherwise; she didn't have the energy to go to any more shops. I managed to find her some fresh milk with a longer use-by date, but afterwards I went upstairs and sobbed. I'd done five nine-hour shifts in a row and I was exhausted; physically and emotionally.
It's hard to see everyone else being told to stay inside, knowing that each day I'm making myself and my family vulnerable by coming into contact with the public. With up to 85 people in the store at once, the risks are high. But unless I start showing symptoms I will continue to do my job on the frontline, because I know how important it is.
If I did end up developing symptoms, there are so many unknowns. I don't know whether I'd be paid for my contracted hours, or if I'd just get statutory sick pay (which would be £94.25 per week, down from my usual £320). My managers don't know either. Luckily, I live with my parents so I'd be fine, but I know a lot of others who aren't in such a fortunate position.
I worry that if one staff member ends up with symptoms, the whole shop could be shut down as we'd all have been in contact with each other. It's not just the loss of pay I'd be concerned about if I couldn't work; if we don't go in then the shop shelves aren't getting filled and the people in our local area aren't getting enough to eat.
It's frustrating to see customers who aren't taking the situation as seriously as they should be. Often, I see people ignoring the social distancing advice they've been given; they continue to stand together in the queue, buying single non-essential items like ice cream or a can of Diet Coke. We've all got a duty to distance ourselves and I think everyone could be doing more; I think people should limit themselves to just one essential shop per week.
If things continue the way they are now for at least three months, like my managers expect it to, then I worry the staff will get completely burnt out - if they've not already got sick themselves. We've already pushed our store opening time back from 8am to 10am to stop food running out, and I've been told we might have to reduce hours even more.
At such a scary time, it does make me feel better to help in the small ways that we can. I feel a strong sense of duty to help the vulnerable, so I'm pleased we've started opening our store exclusively for the elderly and those who need it for two hours in the morning a few days a week.
Times are hard, but there's a real sense of team spirit among the staff; it's a "keep calm and carry on" atmosphere. Everyone's working harder, doing as much as they can. When it gets closer to opening time and we see a queue forming at the door, we all hype each other up. Out of shopping hours, we've found talking helps. Just being able to have a chat about what's going on in our lives away from coronavirus and away from the shop really makes a difference.
It's moving to see supermarket staff being more appreciated now; restaurants are offering us discounts on takeaways, and we've been listed as key workers. We finally feel like we're valued. Just like the NHS, as the country goes into lockdown we still have to go to work - but we'll do it with a smile. It's a worrying time, but what keeps me going is knowing that I'm doing my bit to help."
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.
You Might Also Like