How will this change us?

Discussion
Source: Walmart
Apr 02, 2020
George Anderson

A surreal thought occurs to me as I write this article. There has never been a better time to be a retail store associate, warehouse worker or delivery person — at least from a public prestige perspective.

The coronavirus outbreak has accomplished something, perhaps fleetingly, that has never been done before. Many American consumers and some retail executives, if we’re being honest, are seeing the real value of frontline workers for the very first time.

We now appreciate the roles they play in getting us the foods and everyday staples we need by safely and quickly moving products from distant factories or warehouses to store shelves, the curb outside or our front porches. We are particularly appreciative of the fact that they are doing all this while trying to keep us safe from a disease that many worry could end our lives. That’s some serious stuff there.

In the current sense, not only are these workers helping to protect our health, they are likely putting their own in jeopardy at the same time, and not just from COVID-19. Stress levels, particularly for workers who have preexisting conditions such as asthma, diabetes and hypertension, have to be heightened. None of this is helped by the fact that many do not believe they can afford to stay at home even in those instances when employers have humanely offered to pay them to do so.

The reality is that, when you’re earning $12 an hour, perhaps a bit more or a bit less, and if you’re a part-timer like most are, you need to work. How do you then turn down the opportunity to work full-time while receiving a temporary bump in your hourly pay or a bonus for your efforts while at the same time being thanked by complete strangers for doing the same types of tasks you’ve always done?

Retailers have long promoted the idea, with some factual basis, that the business offers a good entry point for workers looking to find a career path. Industry folklore is filled with stories of teenagers who went to work stocking shelves in a local store as they began a journey to the top of the corporate ranks. The reality is that the workers you see in stores or making deliveries to your home, even before the outbreak, are for the most part adults like you and me.

Many stories have been written about how the coronavirus pandemic is changing the way we live and work. Will we come out of this as new and improved versions of ourselves, and will the same be true of our commerce and politics? Here’s to thinking that we just may do that. A good place to start would be to remember that the very people whom retail executives have regularly called their most valuable assets are, in fact, just that. Respect on the job, proper training, pay raises and paid sick leave are good places to start. Stay safe.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think the appreciation retail associates are currently receiving for the role they play in society will carry on after the coronavirus emergency has passed? How, if in any way, do you think retailers will change how they deal with frontline workers when this is over?

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Braintrust
"I hope the same spirit of goodwill that has grown over the past 20 years will extend to a new generation of heroes."
"In our customer feedback platform for supermarkets, we are seeing a high degree of gratitude for the work being done in the supermarket by frontline workers."
"I’m not sure whether retail workers from non-essential businesses are experiencing more appreciation than they once did. All are hurting at this point one way or another."

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27 Comments on "How will this change us?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

This crisis has changed us in every way. Frontline retail workers cannot be thanked or recognized enough for the work they are doing. What would we all do if the shelves didn’t get re-stocked? It’s scary to imagine. These retail workers are truly heroes.

The crisis that we are all living through should change how we look at retailer workers, healthcare workers and everyone else who is on the front lines of this crisis. And while I’d like to believe that human nature will change, and we’ll all suddenly appreciate the value of these every day heroes — I fear that once a therapeutic treatment and vaccine are discovered, we’ll substantially revert to our old ways. I hope I’m wrong.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

The people that have been and are working the floors in the grocery industry truly are heroes. They are putting themselves in risky situations that most of us wouldn’t, and that no one wants to be in. During this horrible time, I see many customers in stores thanking the associates. But I think the sad reality is that the public has short memories. The relationship romance dims in time, as most will revert to thinking “it’s their job.” It’s not immediate, but in time. I wish that would not be the case. I constantly think, where would we be if these associates decided not to do it as well as they do?

Everyone — thank somebody today. It’s a good habit.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

This is something unprecedented in our lifetime. As I said in a previous post, I think we take for granted the healthcare worker, the warehouse worker, the workers on the frontlines in stores because we knew they would always be there to take care of us, or stock product or sell product to us that we need. The extra pay that many are receiving; I am hopeful it will become permanent after this is all over.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Periods of crisis in our recent history (9/11 and the wars in the Middle East) have made us more appreciative as a nation of the “first responders,” whether they are members of our local police and fire departments or members of the military. (The standing ovations for service members at every baseball event I attend are just one example.) Today’s “first responders” are health professionals, first and foremost, but also service providers like grocery and delivery workers.

I could be wrong, but I hope the same spirit of goodwill that has grown over the past 20 years will extend to a new generation of heroes.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Maybe there will be more civility among all people. In the words of Jackie DeShannon; “What the world needs now is love, sweet love…”

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

There is no doubt that the level of employee appreciation is rising. Managers and leaders are not just seeing, but feeling what happens when you’re forced to reduce the workforce, and specifically people who have a special skill. When this is over, I believe we will have a stronger appreciation for what we had before the pandemic began. Similar to what happened after 9/11, when the country became more patriotic. We appreciated our military forces and applauded them as they walked into a movie theater or boarded an airplane. While this isn’t as strong as almost 20 years ago, there is still more appreciation for our freedom and the people who fight for it than there was pre-9/11. We will experience some of that when this is over. I’m looking forward to getting back to the “good old days,” which was just two months ago!

David Weinand
BrainTrust

Great post! What an amazing job the teams that make up “essential” retailers have done. During these times it is incredible that these people are continuing to put themselves at risk to ensure the rest of us have food and essentials. Unfortunately, I fear that as with other major traumatic events, memories are short. The appreciation these people deserve and are getting currently will not likely last when things return to normal. Customers will go back to their hurried lives and executives will go back to focusing on margins. I hate to be a skeptic but we’ve seen this during natural disasters and financial crises so we will likely see it here too.

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

The opportunity for store associates to spend more time with customers is long overdue. Automation of some in-store tasks to aid this will give them the time they need. Consumers appreciate what they are doing now but to keep this up they need to be given the bandwidth to have this interaction.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

It is ironic that it takes a catastrophe to impress upon some that which the rest of us knew a long time ago.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Yes, anyone who has worked in an actual store (not just a corporate office) during his/her retail career understands this well. Customers may be learning the hard way that merchandise doesn’t just magically find its way onto the shelf of your local grocer or discount store — it takes work.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I think many people realize they underappreciated public safety professionals, healthcare workers, and particularly teachers. While there are anecdotal stories, I’m not sure the general population has changed their minds about retail workers as so many of their usual places to shop are closed.

Michael Terpkosh
BrainTrust

At some point, when we emerge from this very difficult time, everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) needs to maintain appreciation for retail associates, supply chain employees, teachers instructing remotely and many others on the front lines. Not to be political, but I am hopeful that retailers and all businesses will realize we need to take care of each better than we have in the past. Better health care, better living wages and better financial safety. Retailers must adopt the strategic goal that what is good for my employees is good for my business.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I sincerely hope it does. For years retailers have reduced hours for these employees putting them in a no health care status because they are not full time and are scheduled less than 32 hours a week or whatever the break point is in the state and county of that particular store. This is made easy by leveraging the capabilities of work force management software to do so. We owe it to these workers to offer full time options. These are today’s first responders, who are risking their lives for frequently less than $10 dollars per hour. We are indebted to them and need to treat them with the respect they deserve when this nightmare is over.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I don’t think I am being overly dramatic in saying this — what is the difference between a retail associate stepping into a store to work and a soldier crossing a mine field? I see none. Injury and death are within the next touch or breath. But still, they go.

Does everybody appreciate it? Hardly, but more people do now than ever before. Will they remember after this goes away? I am not sure why they will; when a soldier comes home we forget all about his/her sacrifices.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

Like others have written, the outpouring of appreciation for all of the folks on the front line, whether they be first responders, healthcare professionals, janitors or retail staff, is appropriate and long overdue. The question is the lasting effect. The 9/11 “love one another” attitude lasted for awhile, but not indefinitely.

For the post COVID-19 appreciation, the impact can be heightened and extended by the way retailers treat and respect these unselfish frontliners going forward. The ways of doing this are only limited by one’s imagination. One thing we do know is that food retailers are enjoying record sales during this time. They will need to share any financial gains now and in the future with the everyday heroes keeping the system going and keeping Americans safe.

Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

In our customer feedback platform for supermarkets, we are seeing a high degree of gratitude for the work being done in the supermarket by frontline workers. Will it last beyond this pandemic? That is hard to ascertain, but I can say that the efforts of frontline staff are indeed being noticed now.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

As of yet, it’s a big unknown whether or not if post-crisis there will be a change in attitude towards associates and related workers (truck drivers, warehouse labor, cashiers, assistant managers, gig shoppers, etc.).

Any true appreciation is twofold: it comes from management which needs to support these workers with career paths, benefits, and training, and from shoppers, whose ultimate change in attitude will come from paying for the majority of any management-led program through more costly goods. Otherwise it’s a bunch of appreciation in the moment which, as Gene Detroyer points out, our soldiers know all too well fades with time.

Chris Buecker
BrainTrust

No, I don’t think so. People will forget and the appreciation will not carry on after this crisis period has passed.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Given that 68% of our GDP is consumer spending (much of that retail and hospitality) we as a society have historically under appreciated and under paid those who directly provide these services.

I’m hopeful that this situation changes moving forward.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

George’s take is a positive one, but for every group of appreciative customers there are one or two cranks who are upset that some checker’s mask was askew — or, gasp! — they weren’t wearing one. And the reality is this is a traumatic episode that most of us will try to put behind as soon as possible. Absent some Norman Rockwell moment (difficult when you can’t get near anyone) individual acts are unlikely to stand out.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

I try to think of how past events have changed us. 9/11 initiated the TSA and ubiquitous appreciation of first responders. Hopefully, the retail employees who are helping today will be appreciated long after we get past this virus. I do wonder if handshaking will go away permanently. Any guesses?

Heidi Sax
BrainTrust

I’m hoping that retail’s hourly workers will be able to take some benefits they gained as a result of the crisis — namely paid time off and sick days — with them once we’ve recovered from this. I’m not sure whether retail workers from non-essential businesses are experiencing more appreciation than they once did. All are hurting at this point one way or another.

James Ray
Guest

Retirees working part-time for essential retail business are declining to work. Those in the older ages range with underlying issues like cancer, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease don’t want to work face-to-face with the public if it puts them at greater risk of Covid-19.

Scott Benedict
Guest
Well if we were being honest with ourselves, the industry’s front line workers “should” continue to be recognized for their heroic efforts in our current state of emergency. When that will actually be the case our not likely depends on the specific retailer and the cultural value they place on their workforce generally, and these individuals specifically. It should be noted that truck drivers and warehouse personnel are equally heroic right now, working long hours to get merchandise on trucks and out to stores. In addition, the employees at fulfillment centers that pick, pack and ship online orders should also be recognized for their efforts. Finally, as a former buyer, I know that the buying team at a number of retailers — particularly those in the grocery segment — are working extremely hard to locate product, get orders placed and following them through the supply chain and into stores right now. To be sure, there are heroes across the retail industry right now. They are gaining experience and skills in dealing with a crisis that… Read more »
Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

The scale of this crisis is unlike any other natural disaster we’ve seen before where sentiment towards frontline workers has changed. In every one of those cases before we’ve thought there would be a permanent change in how retail associates are treated, in how they are trained, and how they are viewed by retail executives. In a few cases, it did stick, but generally, it did not.

I believe this time will be different simply because of the sheer scale of the crisis and the number of people who are seeing these workers in a new light for the first time. It’s true consumers tend to have short memories, but something tells me this will be different. Even if some consumers go back to mistreating store associates or restaurant staff, I expect those executives will have more lasting memories of how those frontline workers kept the business running and helped not only the business survive, but how they helped keep society running. Let’s hope I’m right!

Chuck Palmer
BrainTrust

Unless the fundamental economics of how retailers run their businesses changes, we won’t see much of a difference post-pandemic (if that will ever really be a thing). The reason we are calling these folks heroes is mostly because they are doing something we can’t or won’t do — for $11 an hour. ($2/hour increases are temporary, just to keep folks coming to work.)

Will we see a living wage come out of all this front-line worker worship? Will we see changes in minimum wage? I would be delighted to be proven wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.

William Passodelis
Guest
2,000 years ago Jesus Christ told us to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Is more than just a song by the Great Ms. Aretha Franklin. People are dying and these people are doing their jobs! And they could pay a very big price for that exposure. They should be shown respect. Respect can come in a LOT of ways. Healthcare from employers, appreciation by customers, etc. I HOPE that when this is over people do NOT return to the thought that “it is their job.” Some people have the benefit of education. Some people are lucky to be born into moneyed families. These people working in grocery stores are hard working and get up every day and do their job and they might be doing a job that you might NOT want to do. That ALONE should earn them respect! As for the healthcare workers — they do NOT know when the patient who is going to expose them is going to show up and they DO their… Read more »
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Braintrust
"I hope the same spirit of goodwill that has grown over the past 20 years will extend to a new generation of heroes."
"In our customer feedback platform for supermarkets, we are seeing a high degree of gratitude for the work being done in the supermarket by frontline workers."
"I’m not sure whether retail workers from non-essential businesses are experiencing more appreciation than they once did. All are hurting at this point one way or another."

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