Working Through A Pandemic – Part Two

In Part Two of our interview series of Working Through a Pandemic, we speak with Jessica, an Operations Manager of a major retailer. Her company was deemed an essential service by the state, which meant that she and her colleagues were permitted to work onsite even when most of the country was on a strict lockdown. She shares some of the obstacles that she faced, including the awkwardness of starting a new job during the country’s deadliest pandemic since 1918 when the flu killed over a half million US citizens.

Jessica, Operations Manager of a Major Retailer

On starting a new job during Covid-19…

Starting onsite at a new job during Covid-19 is interesting because we always joke that when we’re allowed to not wear our masks anymore, we won’t recognize each other unless we cover up our mouths because we can’t actually see anyone’s face. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it actually makes a difference. We can’t see each other’s faces, and we can’t shake each other’s hand. I’ve met a lot of people in a very awkward, stand-offish manner. I’m more extroverted. Like everyone I meet, I’m gonna shake their hand. I’m talking to them. I can see their face. In this instance, that’s not the case. I’m meeting people who I’ve never seen their faces before. I can’t shake their hand when I say “hello” to them. So, it’s very awkward. I would almost prefer to meet everyone over video conference before starting so I could at least put a face to a name.

The challenge of building relationships with new colleagues when you can’t see their faces….

It [the mask] puts up a barrier. I can’t see their face, and I can’t shake their hand. If I could shake their hand and not see their face or see their face and not shake their hand, it might make a difference. But, no, I see these people with masks on all day and some of them, when they do take their mask off in the breakroom or something like that, I don’t recognize them. So, it’s a very awkward situation. But it just gives that extra layer of barrier which some people would prefer to hide behind, right? I’m in management, so a lot of people will feel safe behind the mask. I know that sounds really funny, but you think of a kid who has his invisible cape because he wants to hide from people. It’s almost like they have this invisible wall because they have a mask. So, they don’t have to talk to me. They don’t have to smile. They don’t have to acknowledge any awkward situation[s]. It’s different. It’s very different. But, I’m not sure that will ever go away. I don’t see a time in which we won’t be wearing masks anymore. I think that Covid-19 has shaped our culture overall, and for the most part, most people are gonna feel safe at work continuing to wear a mask.

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

On the difficulty of wearing a mask for ten-twelve hours at a time on a plant floor…

We have a policy that we have to keep our masks on at all times. It all makes sense because sometimes people don’t have a fever, don’t have any symptoms, and they’re still Covid-19 positive. So, it does make sense to wear the mask. However, when it’s an extremely difficult environment where we’re constantly going up and down stairs, walking around, and having a lot of physical exertion, I think we should be allowed to pull our masks down to get air. They’ve been very, very strict about keeping our masks up at all times, and that’s really difficult. And maybe it’s difficult for me because I already struggle to breathe, but I imagine that it’s difficult for anyone when you are exerting that much physical energy because it gets hot. We’re sweating. It’s actually very hot outside. I imagine that it’s not safe for us to wear these masks for our entire shift. It’s kinda like a trade-off. I get why we wear the masks, but I think they could do a better job of being not so crazy about us potentially pulling the masks down. The reason that’s actually a pain-point for me, in addition to it being difficult to work in that environment with a mask on, is because we’re allowed to take the mask off when we’re in the breakroom eating lunch. So, if it doesn’t matter that we’re taking our masks off at lunch, then it’s not gonna make that huge of an impact if we are allowed to pull our masks down when we’re at our workstations, and then put them up when we’re within six feet of someone. But if we’re not within six feet of someone, it literally is not making a difference for us to be wearing a mask.

Stay tuned for Part Three where we talk with Sheri, a hair stylist and salon manager, about staying safe in a profession that requires close, personal contact.

Related Posts…

Working Through a Pandemic – Part One

Working Through a Pandemic – Part Three

Working Through a Pandemic – Part Four