Customer Behavior is Driving Pandemic Distress for Grocery Store Workers, Report Finds

Monday, January 4, 2021
Twenty percent of Arizona grocery store workers surveyed said they have experienced severe levels of mental distress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new report by University of Arizona researchers, including Dr.Sabrina Helm and Dr. Melissa Barnett, both associate professors in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences finds that 20% of Arizona grocery store workers surveyed have experienced severe levels of mental distress during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the major sources of that stress: customer behavior. The report, "Frontline Essential Workers at Risk in Arizona: The Safety, Health, and Financial Impacts of COVID-19," is based on a survey conducted by Mayer and his colleagues in collaboration with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 99, which represents workers in nearly half of all grocery stores in Arizona. A total of 3,996 UFCW members completed the survey over the summer, during the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Arizona.

The report, "Frontline Essential Workers at Risk in Arizona: The Safety, Health, and Financial Impacts of COVID-19," is based on a survey conducted by UArizona researchers in collaboration with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 99, which represents workers in nearly half of all grocery stores in Arizona.

A total of 3,996 UFCW members completed the survey over the summer, during the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Arizona.

The findings reveal that employees are highly concerned with safety measures, particularly those related to customer behaviors. Survey participants also reported high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. The report also highlights the financial impacts of the pandemic and the need for increased compensation for essential workers who take on additional risks for the benefit of society.

The report includes recommendations for employers, including increasing training for supervisors and employees, developing strategies to encourage customer compliance with safety policies, and connecting employees to health care and mental health resources.

"Retailers are strongly advised to provide better guidance and support for their employees who feel the mental strain of having to balance the need for their own physical safety from altercations with misbehaving customers, while being expected to best serve all their customers and keep them safe," co-author Sabrina Helm said. "Mixed messages or incomplete procedures in this regard cause immense frustration, increasing negative effects on mental health of a particularly vulnerable part of our essential workforce."

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Rosemary Brandt
Media Relations Manager, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences
520-358-9729