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Harassment in workplaces February 1, 2023

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

This is striking. Research carried out by Circle K both in its own workplaces and across retail – significant numbers reporting ’physical assault and verbal abuse when dealing with customers’. 

Half of Irish retail workers witnessed customers physically assault a colleague.

Almost a third of retail workers, and almost a fifth of Circle K employees, said the harassment they experienced from customers was based on gender, with 34% of Circle K employees saying they had experienced incidents of harassment based on race.

A total of 70% of retail workers said their experience of harassment from customers had made them consider seeking employment outside of retail.

Not sure how robust those findings are, but if even approaching the reality of the situation it paints a bleak picture. It would be interesting to see how those who act in this way towards workers seek to justify their approach. Useful too to know what sanctions could be imposed on those who do so. 

Mentioned before how in the last year I’ve seen and heard from workers in café’s shops and other workplaces stories of remarkable entitlement from customers shading into abusiveness. That’s been coming a long time, pre-pandemic, but no doubt the pandemic exacerbated it. I’m not a huge fan of Kathy Sheridan in the IT but she covers some of this ground too – how in everyday settings there was a sea change in attitudes.

In early January during a mundane transaction with a small-business owner, I asked idly how the new year was going for him. Instead of the usual jokey response, there was a pause. People had become unbelievably aggressive, he said; impatient, stoked for a row, looking to be offended.

Sure you’re not doing something to provoke them, I asked jokily? He wasn’t amused. Over 15 years, he has learned to handle abrasive customers but this feels different, he insisted; there is more of that free-range anger about, or maybe it just seems that way because people see no reason to rein it in.

I was speaking to a number of workers in the food and other sectors over the past year who had similar accounts. Utterly unreasonable unwarranted aggression directed to them when, say, a certain foodstuff wasn’t available, when there were delays on a service, where it wouldn’t be ready immediately. Again the sense of entitlement, the sense that whatever a ‘customer’ wanted they were as of right to be given there and then, comes over very strongly. A sense too that the people they are dealing with in the immediate – those working at the coal-face are inconsequential with regard to their feelings and that they must take all blame for decisions that were entirely out of their control, either due to management making problematic decisions or more usually because of larger contextual issues regarding supply or one thing or another. 

But it doesn’t end there. Even pre-pandemic I saw evidence of this too through involvement in school management.  

That same week, a bright young teacher confessed she was having reservations about her career path. Were the children very challenging, someone asked? Not at all, she said, it’s the parents. The first response to a mild rebuke of a child is anger – at the teacher, not the child. Energetic and ambitious, she should be chasing promotion but probably won’t.

These conversations chime with others on the front line – bus drivers, checkout staff, healthcare professionals, politicians. Free-range anger blights lives.

Sheridan points to social media, and broader political narratives, and no doubt that is true. Add in mental health issues regarding the pandemic (and the basic reality that shop workers and teachers and others were in some sense gatekeepers for constraints during that). But I’d a further thing. It is something that reminds me a bit of London in the 1980s, a sense that those who are workers in shops or wherever (health, schools and so on) are lesser, that they are by dint of their jobs not as important as the people who are harassing them, that their welfare isn’t just secondary, it’s non-existent to those latter people. To say that’s a function of capitalism is arguably too pat. But perhaps bundle everything up, social media, the pressures on public services, the pressures on a range of areas, political and other threads and that’s what you get. 

How does one combat all that?



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