The Effects of “COVID Fatigue” on the Grocery Industry

CJR trucks outside of warehouse

On October 5th, 2020 the Canadian Grocer released a story on customer behaviour. While all roles that deal with customers have some risk of uncomfortable interactions, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has taken “bad customer” to a whole new level.

From packaging facilities to truck drivers to grocery stores, some customers are giving the grocery industry a hard time. Diane Brisebois, president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada says “COVID fatigue is contributing to more and more customers behaving badly. Our retailers, including grocers, are the storefront to society and unfortunately have to deal with customers who don’t appreciate the health and safety measures currently in place.”

Multiple videos of such confrontations have gone viral across Canada and the USA including coughing, spitting, property destruction and more.

Not What Employees Signed Up For

Today, the grocery store employee has been assigned a role they never asked for: safety enforcement. Not only are they expected to ask customers to wear masks and keep their distance, but they are also expected to enforce these rules to individuals who are tired, scared and sick of this pandemic.

Rick Rabba, President of Rabba Fine Foods says he witnessed two grown men shouting and shoving each other out of frustration over social distancing issues. “I was able to de-escalate the situation before there was any violence, but not before yogurt had been splashed all over the aisle out of anger.”

Why Are People Acting Out?

So why are people angrier than usual? In a Hopkins Medicine Article, Psychologist Carisa Parrish addresses some of the reasons people are acting out. She says “most people are still removed from the consequences of getting COVID-19. The risk might not feel real to them if they don’t know anyone who’s sick.”  Everyone’s mental health has been suffering, especially lower-income individuals, those who live alone, and families with young children in need of care. 

But that does not make it acceptable to mistreat frontline workers. 

The Cost of Safety

When stores are dealing with unending lines and impatient, nervous customers, workers can’t always maintain a six-foot distance from people and clean their hands regularly.  Many customers don’t realize the implications of safety guidelines. For example, washing hands every 20 minutes means less staff on the floor restocking shelves and longer lineups at the cash. 

These basic safety measures which are required by Health Canada to keep Canadians safe, have a cost. 

The good news is that the number of disruptive customers is 1 or 2 in 100. Many more individuals express deep gratitude to their local grocery stores, truck drivers and distributors, for their ongoing efforts to keep them fed.