Pandemic Blues

As a little girl, I used to watch the sitcom, “Hill Street Blues”, with my mom. It was a TV show about police officers working in a major metropolitan city. Prior to the officers going out to patrol their beats, they sat through roll call. The sergeant recapped the previous day; the current mission of the precinct, updates, etc. However, prior to dismissing his officers, the sergeant’s departing statement to them was, “be careful out there.”

Positive morale is critically important for employees working on the frontline.

It is imperative for businesses or organizations to take care of their employees. PERIOD. However, a higher degree of emotional intelligence and compassion is paramount during times of crisis similar to the current state of our world. Namely, the employees who will serve as the face and unofficial spokespeople of your company or business.

I decided to write this after a recent experience at a grocery store. After desperately trying to replenish my essentials, I sought the assistance of several services to deliver my groceries because I really wasn’t trying to go to the store. As you would surmise, there were no delivery slots available. So, I had to visit the grocery store in person. Nice.

The cashier was wearing plastic gloves, while she was blowing her nose (with said gloves on), ringing up everyone’s groceries, handling money, and making change. She was clearly unwell. By the time she got to me (and maybe because of the cautious look on my face when she blew her nose the second time), she voluntarily offered that what seemed to me as cold-like symptoms were “allergies.” She also mentioned that she needed to leave (work), because she had already worked two of her off days, and had three children at home.

She was tired. She was unwell. And she was in a bad mood. Which negatively influenced my mood-especially when she’s handling my purchases that were destined for my home and my consumption.

I hold the employer partially accountable. The cashier blew her nose on two separate occasions while I was in her line (which wasn’t very long.) I’m fairly certain those weren’t the first two times she exhibited signs of something being wrong. This woman was no actress. She was unable to conceal that she wasn’t feeling it. Literally.

Yes, she was performing a valuable service. Yes, she was potentially putting her own health, and possibly her children’s health at risk by working during a time like this. However, if her runny nose was not due to seasonal allergies, there is a potential public/health safety risk. COVID or otherwise. Which negates anything positive-no matter how well intentioned. What responsibility did the store have to protect her and customers like me?

Also, this woman demonstratively did not have the proper frame of mind to deal with customers due to how she was feeling. And based on her statement: she had been working without days off, which is a dangerous recipe for anyone, but particularly someone with weaken immunity. When does the employer step in or recognize the obvious signs that an employee is faltering?

This revelation doesn’t have to yield a disciplinary discussion or action. Maybe it’s simply pulling the employee aside and asking, “Are you okay?” Or, “what can I do to help?”

Customer-facing jobs are tough. Whether it be retail, or our heroes working in the medical profession in response to COVID-19. It is a character-building experience to deal with the public. PERIODT. Especially during a pandemic, when people are sick, scared, or other highly stressful situations. This is why a “roll call” or a touch base could serve as a lifeline.

Before your frontline connects with your customers and stakeholders, make sure that they are okay. Make sure that there are activities and resources available for employees to decompress constructively before or after work. Remain alert and watch for clear signs of burnout or distress. Take ownership of the situation upfront to minimize the need to send in the Calvary to do damage control in the end.

When you’re paying people to take care of the people who are paying you, sometimes a business or an organization has to invest a lot more than money.

On both sides.

Be careful out there.

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