Why Low-wage Service Workers Are Facing New Emotional Hazards In The Workplace

Why Low-wage Service Workers Are Facing New Emotional Hazards In The Workplace
Service workers are often tasked with enforcing company mask and social distancing policies.
AP Photo/Nati Harnik

Low-wage service workers increasingly are facing new physical and emotional hazards in the workplace as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to interviews with workers we conducted in April. We found that in addition to being afraid and anxious about their own health and possible exposure to COVID-19 while working, these employees said dealing with unpredictable customer emotions was taking an additional toll.

The workers we spoke with reported that interactions with customers were becoming emotionally charged over issues such as mask requirements and other safety guidelines. Workers of color said they were experiencing increased racial harassment.

Exposure to these emotional hazards was widespread among the workers we interviewed and was also spilling over into their home lives. A grocery worker with underlying health conditions told us her son “was super worried, like borderline tears, because he didn’t want me to go [to work] because he knows it’s not safe. And I felt horrible because I didn’t want to go, but I knew that I had to.”

Why it matters

As states and businesses try to reopen with a mix of safety guidelines and protocols, workers have often been on the front lines of enforcing health measures such as requiring customers to wear a mask or maintain social distancing. Some customers have even turned violent, which adds a threat of physical harm to workers who are already disproportionately exposed to a lethal virus.

The experiences of the workers in our study, most of whom worked throughout the shutdown, reveal the need for government and companies to address these new emotional hazards and protect them from customer harassment. Without clear governmental safety mandates, for example, workers easily become the targets of harassment as they tried to enforce their companies’ policies. Workers also said their companies often had weak enforcement mechanisms, frequently adjusted their policies and didn’t provide support in dealing with intense interactions with customers.

What’s next

These results are part of a series of ongoing studies we’re conducting with essential workers in a variety of roles, such as home care and food processing, to examine how they are navigating these new emotional risks during the pandemic. We are also looking at efforts by workers to organize to demand better protections and how these challenges are affecting their families.

How we do our work

As a team of sociologists at the University of Oregon, we rely on rich qualitative data from in-depth interviews, focus groups and participant observation. Our results here come from interviewing dozens of workers in Oregon’s hospitality, retail and food services industries whom we first met in 2019 as a part of an ongoing longitudinal study.The Conversation


 Get The Latest From InnerSelf


About the Authors

Lola Loustaunau, Ph.D Candidate, University of Oregon; Ellen Scott, Professor of Sociology, University of Oregon; Larissa Petrucci, Research Assistant at the Labor Education & Research Center, University of Oregon , University of Oregon, and Lina Stepick, Labor Policy Research Faculty, University of Oregon

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfifrdehiiditjakomsnofaptruessvtrvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

FROM THE EDITORS

InnerSelf Newsletter: September 6, 2020
by InnerSelf Staff
We see life through the lenses of our perception. Stephen R. Covey wrote: “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are──or, as we are conditioned to see it.” So this week, we take a look at some…
InnerSelf Newsletter: August 30, 2020
by InnerSelf Staff
The roads we are travelling these days are as old as the times, yet are new for us. The experiences we are having are as old as the times, yet they also are new for us. The same goes for the…
When The Truth Is So Terrible It Hurts, Take Action
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
Amidst all the horrors taking place these days, I am inspired by the rays of hope that shine through. Ordinary people standing up for what is right (and against what is wrong). Baseball players,…
When Your Back Is Against The Wall
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf
I love the internet. Now I know a lot of people have a lot of bad things to say about it, but I love it. Just like I love the people in my life -- they are not perfect, but I love them anyway.
InnerSelf Newsletter: August 23, 2020
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone probably can agree that we are living in strange times... new experiences, new attitudes, new challenges. But we can be encouraged in remembering that everything is always in flux,…