I’ve Worked in Customer Service Long Enough to Know That People Generally Look Down on You

I’ve Worked in Customer Service Long Enough to Know That People Generally Look Down on You
Illustration: Elena Scotti (Photos: Getty Images, Shutterstock

Have you been laid off or furloughed? Are you a frontline worker dealing with new stresses or irresponsible management? Is working (or not working) from home starting to take a psychological toll? Submit a story using this Google form or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story” and provide as much detail as you’re comfortable with.

Authors’ identities have been verified, and submissions have been edited for length, grammar, and clarity.

Anonymous, U.S.

I’ve been working for [the company] for the past few years and I was relieved to be placed on furlough. Though I’m grateful for my job, I haven’t been happy working for the company for a while and our CEO’s response has been disheartening and concerning, but not surprising. When the pandemic first became news, I was one of the people who thought it was overblown and agreed with [the CEO] that it will blow over. But my mind quickly changed as the facts outweighed my doubts and the realisation that there were people dying horrific deaths from this disease.

When the pandemic first hit the U.S., our company did little to help us out. For example, in March I was sent home without pay and forced to see a doctor for a cough I had since January; my allergies were terrible this year. There was no reimbursement for the check-up. We were given the option to stay home without pay for those of us uncomfortable to work with the public but that didn’t keep us from going in because we needed the money. [The company] didn’t supply us with PPE or any type sanitation equipment as we worked feverishly to close the end of Q1 with better sales and delivery numbers than the year prior.

Yes, we followed social distancing guidelines but our managers had to find creative ways to obtain hand sanitizer, even going against our regional manager’s irrational orders not to do so. I asked my manager why we were still working and selling cars when the country was entering the shutdown and people were losing jobs. His answer was that we were keeping the company alive so we can have a job when this was over.

April came and we were furloughed, which I was grateful for because I was looking forward to a break so I can reevaluate my job, as I was having a “Death of a Salesman” conundrum.

I became disillusioned with the company I was once proud to work for, as [the CEO] began making irrational and plain stupid statements about the seriousness of covid-19 and the stay-at-home orders. He took the pandemic as a joke and the stay-at-home orders as a personal slight. He kept his factory open during the height of the epidemic and only relented when he was done with Q1 production. Now he has employees working in the factory in slave-like conditions and had them defy government orders because he needed to start production again. And to add insult to injury, [the company] drastically slashed Q1 bonuses with no explanation, which furloughed employees were depending on due to not having a paycheck for nearly two months.

Through my former profession, I have had the sobering and heartbreaking experience of people dying in my arms from untimely and tragic deaths; because of this I believe human life is sacred and should be protected and treated with compassion and dignity. [The CEO’s] numerous rants and his actions with his factory made me question my loyalty to a man who has proven through his own actions that he doesn’t value people’s lives. And, it made me lose respect for a company I thought was changing the world for the better.

For now, I am appreciating the time-off as I gain perspective on what I value and plan out where I want to go with my life. I’m grateful for the little money I have left, for my health, and my loved ones. And I’m grateful for the kind people I have encountered during this crisis. They rekindled my hope of a better world through the decency and principles we all share as Americans.

Angie, farmers market associate, Virginia

The pandemic has turned a job I loved into a trial. Weekday markets that were once bustling with people on their way to work or on lunch breaks are now graveyards. Weekend markets that used to be community gathering places teeming with vendors are a shadow of their former selves. People are afraid to be near each other and many older vendors are afraid of what they might risk by opening up shop. We’re lucky if we see two other vendors at some of our markets.

As I’m sure you are aware the CDC has recently announced that covid 19 cannot be transmitted by touching contaminated services and as such people have been told that gloves and other precautions are unnecessary. [ed note: the CDC has said covid-19 “does not spread easily” via surface contact; it has said gloves are unnecessary for the general public but that recommendations for work settings will differ.] While I support adhering to the latest scientific advice and I am personally happy that we can safely take this one small step towards normalcy, this announcement has thrown a wrench into my work life:

You see, farmers markets have state organisations and regional associations that oversee their implementation and safety. Truth be told I didn’t know these groups existed before covid-19 because they didn’t play a big role in my day-to-day work life. While the CDC might be A-OK with our customers touching the produce sans gloves or otherwise, the organisations over seeing us are not. While I’m sure our rules of operations will eventually change to reflect the CDC’s advice there’s no telling when that will be. As a result I have to keep myself in gloves and my customers off the produce or risk getting permanently thrown out of a market. Naturally this has caused a boatload of confusion and frustration for our customers. It’s hard to try to get people to comply with our guidelines when we don’t have the CDC in our corner.

My health is always on my mind with every card I have to swipe and every customer-touched item I have to handle. If you told me last year that I’d be so much of a budding germaphobe that I would be afraid to swipe a credit card I would have called you crazy. All this is made worse by the fact that my boss has had an increasingly hard time finding gloves and hand sanitizer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to “sanitize” my gloves with questionable yellow liquid from a plastic water bottle or used plastic bags as stand-ins for gloves — it’s like having slippery, flimsy boxing gloves on. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried to wrangle a particularly round onion on scale long enough to get a price with plastic bags on your hands.

Emotionally it’s been rough going; I try not to think about the pandemic and the changes it’s brought with it. Most of the time I can try to ignore it but sometimes you get a costumer that just wants to touch the tomatoes and doesn’t care if they are putting every customer and employee’s health in jeopardy. I’ve worked in customer service long enough to know that people generally look down on you; but to have people value the produce over the health of the people selling it is a whole new level of disheartening.

As for the financial toll, the pandemic has led to delayed market openings which means fewer hours all around. I’ve had to dip into my saving for things that I normally wouldn’t have to even with my modest means. It’s weird entering into a new stage of “dead broke.” This job never paid rent, and I never expected it to, but I never thought a $US50 ($72) Walmart grocery run or a $US30 ($43) dollar tank of gas would leave me wondering how I would make it to payday.

I Don’t Know How Much Waiting There’s Left in Me to Do

Have you been laid off or furloughed? Are you a frontline worker dealing with new stresses or irresponsible management? Is working (or not working) from home starting to take a psychological toll? Submit a story using this Google form or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story”...

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Anonymous, freelance producer, New York

I was in the middle of a job for an exercise equipment company and our last day was a casting session on Friday, March 13th. Earlier in the week we had done everything we usually do the week before production: location scouting, meetings with various departments, and hiring crew members. That Wednesday night the NBA shut down and I knew things were serious.

I kept working for two more days and over the weekend we got the word that the job was “on hold until further notice.” As a freelancer if I’m not working there’s no income. It’s not a complaint, I chose this life and often sing the praises of my lifestyle, but the only money I’ve made since then has been unemployment. The extra family time has been great and as we’re being what could generously be called “a bit overcautious” — our expenses have been cut by probably 75-per cent. The only money we spend is on food, a mortgage payment, and other utilities.

All in all I consider myself pretty lucky, which is a strange thing to say after not working for over two months and with nothing on the horizon. I’m lucky that my wife with bad asthma and two small kids are healthy, lucky that I was sitting on some savings, and lucky that after travelling for work to LA, Toronto, and Atlanta while this monster was spreading on aeroplanes across the globe, I somehow managed to dodge getting sick (I think, I never had symptoms).

My industry is a wreck. Shoots have gone remote with producers, directors, ad agencies in clients all watching online via secure video chats and people shooting in their homes with their real families as talent. California seems to be gearing up to resume film production and other states like Florida, Texas and Georgia are all issuing permits, but New York might not have anything shooting until 2021. I travel a lot for work and as long as I make sure to stay safe I can see starting to be busy soon as other states and countries open up in the next couple of months. For the many people I work with who rely on local work on TV shows, movies and commercials, I honestly don’t know how they’ll be able to last at least another 6 months with no income. We know work will come back eventually, but I wonder who of the people I know will still be left when it does.

Erez, IT engineer, Seattle

I work for a tech company Nvidia, which (I believe) has always been on the forefront of working-from-home, with many employees regularly doing so even before covid. Once they decided to close our offices, not only did they require all of us to work from home, they also allocated a sizable amount of money for each employee to create a more ergonomic environment at their home (for example, by buying a desk or chair).

I provide IT services to fellow employees, which requires me to go into the office at least twice a week, plus other “runs,” like picking up Fedex packages or dropping them off. Due to this, the company has decided to give me a “hero” bonus every month, on top of my regular salary, which hasn’t been affected. In addition, the company has decided to give employees their annual raises earlier than usual, so as to help those of us in need ASAP.

Other than that, I’ve always been a fairly indoors-y person, so being at home all the time is fairly comfortable. My girlfriend and I still see each other fairly regularly (once or twice a week) and I also see my son twice a week with no changes to the schedule. The amount of work I do for my job is pretty much the same, but working from home gives me a lot of flexibility, so I’ve been a lot more productive both with “work” stuff, and my personal stuff (for example, finally organised my storage, and fixed a lot of things around the house that have been queued up). Also slowly catching up on my TV/Movie queue.

Even though my state of Washington is starting to ease restrictions next week, I believe it will be at least three more months like this before my colleagues return to the office, possibly even as late as October, so I expect to be here for a lot longer, and I’m pretty happy with how things are. The only negative is that I used to organise a lot of social events, and those are gone for now. I miss that, and my guests at those events, but we’re in touch electronically, so it’s not too bad.

If you would like to be included in a future edition of Sick Days, please use this Google form or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story.” Stay healthy and safe.