Some of you may have seen a picture that made the rounds online recently, of a sign at a restaurant asking people to be patient with how short-staffed they were, sadly proclaiming that “No one wants to work anymore.”
Honestly, I don’t blame them.
The past year has been a really tough one on a lot of professions. Some of that was inevitable — the pandemic has forced everyone to adjust to new situations and taken away much of the casual face to face interaction with coworkers that helped make work more enjoyable (if you had good coworkers). But certain difficulties faced were entirely preventable.
Anyone who has worked a customer service job knows you are always going to have to deal with some number of people who run the gamut from garden-variety rude to screaming-and-throwing-things levels of entitlement. But it seems to have gotten much worse during the pandemic.
Businesses — including some locally — have felt the need to put up signs urging people not to take their frustrations about masks out on employees. Video after video has circulated on social media and in the news media showing adults throwing merchandise, yelling racial slurs, purposely coughing on people and other behaviors they should be extremely embarrassed about.
Meanwhile other jobs have also faced increased hostility, to the point that it is driving people to leave the profession at higher than normal rates. Doctors and nurses, public health employees, police, educators, journalists, elected officials — all have described increasingly difficult situations that have included harassment, threats and physical assault. Senator Bill Hansell recently shared that he had received messages from people threatening to shoot him for showing up to do his job, and I personally know journalists who have received messages threatening to kill or sexually assault them in the past year.
There is no reason for us to shrug our shoulders and accept that receiving death threats for doing your job is simply part of living in our modern society, but that seems to be what has happened.
I’ve also seen an increase in people sharing posts on social media making blanket statements about how all members of a certain profession are dishonest, lazy, racist or some other insult. That may seem harmless, but it can really wear a person down over time. And no, it doesn’t make it all better to tell your friends, “Oh, I don’t mean you, you’re one of the good ones.” People trot out that line to excuse all sorts of mean-spirited generalizations about everything from race to religion, and I promise you that it is never, ever a good look.
I understand that there are a lot of people out there that are bad at their jobs and a lot of companies that handle things badly. But too often people overreact or take out their frustrations on people who aren’t to blame. If a server at a restaurant tells you they’re out of an item you wanted, chances are they’re not the one responsible for making decisions about inventory, so directing a sarcastic comment at them won’t accomplish anything outside of making their day worse.
When I was a college freshman, working at a food court, two of my coworkers didn’t bother to show up to work one day. The result was much longer lines at our store than usual — something many customers noted in a critical tone when they reached the front of the line.
A couple of hours into my shift I was feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, when I suddenly realized I had just put the wrong sauce on a customer’s order. I began to apologize profusely and moved to start the order over when the customer stopped me and said he didn’t mind eating it the way it was.
“When I was standing in line I was watching how hard you’re working to keep the line moving, and I just wanted to say I really appreciate it,” he added.
More than a decade later, I still remember that moment, because it’s what got me through the rest of my shift. It was a small kindness, but the way he chose to react, with a compliment instead of a perfectly understandable tone of annoyance, made a big difference to me that day.
May we all be a little more like that.