EDITORIAL: Worker shortage isn’t the employees’ fault – so don’t be a jerk to them

Waiter Peter Empie
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Waiter Peter Empie

You’re on a long line at the store with your melting ice cream and your hungry kids, and you just want to get the heck out of there before someone blows a gasket — probably you.

You finally get seated at the restaurant and it takes forever to get the waiter’s attention, just to get a menu. Then when you finally do get to order, it takes forever to get your meal.

That’s two “forevers” already, and you haven’t even asked for the check.

You call customer service and they put you on hold for the better part of the morning while they “serve other customers.” Yeah right.

And for all the time you’ve been waiting for those pool shoes you ordered online, you might as well have ordered snow boots.

Patience might be a virtue, but it certainly can be tested in times when we’re all used to getting what we want instantaneously.

And if you think you’ve been waiting much longer in the past at the drive-thru window or the bar or at your mailbox, you’re probably not imagining it.

Businesses that survived the pandemic might be reopening, but many of them are not back to normal, thanks to the challenges of getting people to work for them.

The service industry in particular is having trouble not only attracting new workers but retaining their existing staffs, in part due to staff not returning to work after the economic shutdown.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 million people quit their jobs in April alone.

After the service industry, employees in leisure and hospitality were the second most likely to depart, with 780,000 of them exiting, according to an article in LEO Weekly, a regional arts and business website in Louisiana.

According to an article in Yahoo News, one third of workers in the hospitality industry have no plans to return to their jobs at all.

And local chambers of commerce report hundreds of open positions in regions of the country and the state, everything from waitstaff to manufacturing jobs.

Some of the fault lies in the generous extension of federal unemployment benefits, prompting some former workers to stay home due to child care costs or the simple fact that they make more money not working than working.

But the problem is much more involved.

During the pandemic, many people used their time off to prepare for new careers. Others got fed up with the long and inconsistent hours and relatively low pay of their present jobs, and are seeking better-paying jobs with benefits and better hours.

For those of us who shop or go out to dinner or visit stores, the result has been inconsistent service, at least compared with the level to which we’ve become accustomed.

The workers at understaffed stores are often doing the work of more than one employee. They might be working longer hours, weekends and holidays so their place of employment can stay open.

Those waiters who might have had to handle three tables at a time might now be assigned six. That kid at the fast-food joint might be making burgers and fries and manning the cash register all at once. That customer service rep might be handling twice as many phone calls as before.

Also, many of the workers you see employed now are new to their industries and might not be as quick or knowledgeable as the people who held the jobs before them.

Maybe customers can fault the business owners for not paying more to attract workers. But even that’s not always a legitimate conclusion.

Many businesses operated at slim or nonexistent profit margins even before the pandemic hit. New demands for signing bonuses, health benefits and higher wages are only stressing their financial conditions even more.

But none of this — none — is the fault of the employees we’re all dealing with.

They didn’t create the worker shortage. In fact, the people still willing to put in the hours for inadequate pay might be the glue holding businesses together.

Don’t give them a hard time.

The likely reason you’re waiting so long or not getting a call back might be because that employee is working his or her butt off legitimately serving other customers or performing other tasks not related to directly serving customers.

So hold your tongue. Your complaining won’t make your experience any better, and you’re just making a poor worker miserable for something that’s not their fault. The employee shortage is real.

And while you’re at it, if an employee tells you to put on a mask or social distance because it’s store policy and you don’t want to, don’t take it out on them. They don’t make the rules; they’re just doing what their bosses are telling them. Either do what they request or quietly leave the store.

It’s tough being a customer. But it’s even tougher being on the receiving end of a customer’s hissy fit in the middle of a hard day at work.

Be extra patient. Take a deep breath. Wait your turn. And tip well.

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