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PIQUE'N YER INTEREST: Find kindness for workers as holiday approaches

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Photo by andresr/Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough for everyone, but not in equal measure.

There’s been plenty of talk about evidence of a K-shaped economic recovery, where a handful of folks will be much better off as a result of the health crisis (and make no mistake, it’s a case of the rich getting richer), whereas the bulk of us make up the bottom-right spoke of that ‘K’ darting downwards.

It’s felt that way in terms of workload, too. That bottom-right portion could be bad news or good news—it’s likely indicative of a layoff or furlough, but at least anecdotally, there are a fortunate few who have had little or nothing to do while also retaining job and financial security.

But plenty of workers have never been busier. It could be because of increased demand, fewer staff members because of layoffs or illness, additional COVID-related protocols, changes or challenges, a situation unique to the company, or some mixed-bag combination. Take your pick.

Eight-plus months into the new reality, in many industries, it’s likely that things are ramping up further ahead of Christmas and burdening an already-beyond-burned-out workforce. Let’s all avoid taking our personal frustrations out on any customer service or otherwise public-facing employee who could very well be in the line of fire for a curmudgeon’s ire. After all, they’re more than likely just the face of decisions made well above their pay grade and having to eternally deal with situations out of their control. And if they’ve made an error, they’ve almost certainly earned some slack and patience to rectify the mistake.

As an aside, for a little levity, there have been a couple of frustratingly funny unique-to-the-pandemic customer-service experiences that my family and I have experienced recently from decisions that are 100-per-cent coming from the top down. 

Firstly, my wife is taking on the arduous process of changing her last name with all the necessary agencies and one of those, of course, is the federal government. With Service Canada offices closed, you need to essentially plead your case to ask someone to meet you to process your request. She sent a message explaining her situation and later on in the day, had a voicemail from a blocked caller she ignored. Sure enough, it turned out to be a Service Canada employee working remotely—letting her know that because she hadn’t answered, her request was cancelled. I know we office workers have gotten used to no commute, but these lengths are … drastic.

My own experience came when I was trying to speak with a company’s customer service rep. Their systems were overloaded, so I could request a callback. What date would I like? Uh, Saturday. What time? 10 a.m. There are no available slots at that time. Try again. 6 p.m. Try again. 9 p.m.? You’ve made too many unsuccessful attempts, moron. How dare you ask for a time in a slot that’s already full up? Please wait three hours for the next available agent.

I did, and, well, I accomplished what I needed to, at least.

Well, hope you got a needed chuckle to sustain you through the winter. Back to how crappy things are for our little workerbees.

Top of mind are frontline retail workers. If they’ve had a “hero pay” bump at any point since March, chances are that it’s long gone even as risk continues to rise. They’ve likely gone through frantic runs on supplies, shouldered increased responsibility for constant sanitizing duties, had to explain and enforce new shopping protocols while essentially babysitting customers, and, in a similar vein, are experiencing increased pushback from a certain segment of shoppers who are exponentially more likely to sport a tinfoil hat than a mask.

That latter point, coupled with surging case counts, makes it riskier and riskier by the day just to show up and do their jobs. And to ward off those who are certain to point to the survival rate: sure, if a customer passes on the virus and an employee gets sick, they’ll almost certainly recover. That said, COVID-19 can have devastating long-term effects, the depths of which researchers are still discovering.

And more acutely, if these hourly employees get sick, they can’t work and if they don’t work, their earnings take a hit initially as they wait for federal programs to kick in. 

Several studies have shown that the bulk of COVID-19 cases occur in those in lower income brackets, with less and less risk the more one makes.

Even if you believe in your own invincibility and your own freedom to avoid being detrimentally affected. If you don’t want to wear a mask around vulnerable people, there are contactless ways to get what you need.

Everyone should be able to have a relaxing, restful and healthy holiday season.