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Terri Prunty Kay has worked as a cashier at Walmart in Sonoma county, California since 2011. She had never cried at work because of treatment from customers before the pandemic.
“It’s been a nightmare,” she said. “The first three months there were item limits. Everyone was angry and combative. Now it’s the masks.”
Prunty Kay has asthma and wears a mask at work, but not all customers follow the mask policy. The heat in the store and through the summer has made it unbearable to work and she said her store is understaffed with long lines at the registers.
“It’s exhausting, mentally, emotionally and physically,” she added.
Punty Kay is just one of the millions of essential jobs around the US reporting burnout, fatigue, stress and anxiety while continuing to work through Covid-19.
A national poll conducted in August 2020 by Eagle Hill Consulting found 58% of US workers reported burnout, compared to 45% polled in the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in April 2020. More workers also attributed their burnout to Covid-19 circumstances, at 35% compared to 25% in the previous poll. A July 2020 poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation on adults in the US found 53% reported their mental health was negatively affected by coronavirus related worry and stress, compared to 32% reported in March.
In interviews with the Guardian, essential workers reported burnout caused by increased workloads, understaffing, stress associated with fears over coronavirus and struggles in enforcing social distancing and safety protocols.
Jennifer Sims, an advocate and housing coordinator for a domestic violence nonprofit in Pendleton, Oregon, has been dealing with a 30% increase in calls during the pandemic. At the same time coronavirus safety protocols have halted transportation of clients and the ability to respond to sexual assault victims at local hospitals. The pandemic has also made it increasingly difficult to help victims find housing and its attendant recession has left many concerned with how they will afford rent.
“It makes it incredibly difficult to assist someone who has been through such a gut-wrenching trauma when the phone is the only option,” said Sims. “We have helped a lot of individuals during this pandemic. I really do love my job. But it doesn’t come without burnout and adding a pandemic to it makes the stress level through the roof.”
Grocery store and food service workers have faced enormous stress throughout the pandemic. Most grocery and food chains began ending hazard pay for essential workers in June 2020.
Elizabeth Rung works in the front end as a grocery store cashier in Seattle, Washington. “More and more people are calling out [sick], we’re short staffed all the time,” Rung said. “Customers are becoming crazy, sometimes violent when asked to wear a mask and we aren’t allowed to give out free masks due to the drama and hostility. I haven’t slept well in months.”
At Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, a worker for a contractor in the food service halls on the military base said many of the marines on base have not taken the coronavirus seriously, including not wearing masks or social distancing, and management has increased pressure for staff to keep up with workloads among staff shortages. They requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.
At first, their hours were reduced due to fewer people coming into the dining halls, but those numbers recovered while staff shortages remained.
“I now work my full six days, two shifts a day schedule,” they said. “The workload is so high that for the past three weeks alone we have lost seven employees who have just up and quit after working a day or two. Most of my coworkers have at one point in time broken down crying at work, myself included. It’s gotten so bad that I usually cry before work, or in the bathroom after a particularly grueling shift.”
Frontline workers in the healthcare industry have been particularly hard hit by burnout, a significant issue facing the industry even before the pandemic. Studies in China and Italy of healthcare workers during coronavirus peaks found high rates of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and insomnia among workers.
Stacey Guth works at a certified nursing assistant at an assisted living facility in Shreveport, Louisiana making $10 an hour. She explained the personal protective equipment provided to workers was non-existent and she has had to buy her own N95 mask. A single mother with two children who takes care of her 70-year-old father who is diabetic and suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, an arthritis disease, she has struggled to make ends meet during the pandemic.
“Because the prices on everything we need to survive went up a lot I have had to choose between feeding my kids a decent meal or shorting them on food to make enough for me to keep my stomach from hurting because I’m so hungry,” said Guth. “I eat one meal every other day. My place of employment throws the leftover food away and refuses to let staff eat unless we sign a piece of paper for $3 to be taken out of our check.”
Tracey Tobin works as a pharmacy technician at Walgreens outside of Boston, Massachusetts. “I’ve worked 10- to 13-hour shifts without breaks while being called names no person should be called because drug manufacturers cut down on making medicine. I’m tired and burned out but still making it to my job every day and then I come home to be a mom and a teacher. It’s stressful and exhausting,” said Tobin.
With the virus still spreading and unemployment still high, essential workers see no respite in sight.
John Peoples works as a mental health counselor at a residential facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and has considered quitting due to the working conditions during the pandemic.
“They put restrictions on call outs, but not on employee safety. No one wears a mask nor is it enforced. We have residents who leave sites for days at a time and they come back and are not quarantined,” said Peoples. “I work overnight and I’m a full time dad in the day. I limit contact as much as possible but it’s only a matter of time before I get it.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘I cry before work’: US essential workers burned out amid pandemic | US news