Confessions of Student Workers During a Pandemic

by Satellite Staff

Covid-19 has had a profound effect on every industry. However, as we head into the holiday season, these changes will become even more prominent. Since student workers are a large part of the holiday work force, we interviewed several of our students on how the pandemic has impacted their work experience so far.

  • What industry do you work in?

Maureen Bruce: I work in retail, specifically clothing and sportswear.

Christopher Castro: I work in the electronic retail industry.

Ashley Schlotfeldt: I work at the library on campus. 

Hannah Gentry: Technically education. I work the desk in a library/study space. 

  • How has your company responded to COVID-19 and what changes were made?

MB: Our company has been proactive in responding to COVID-19 to meet CDC guidelines. They stress the importance of the health and safety of their employees and customers, so we have face masks, social distancing measures throughout the store, and have even accommodated our fitting room policy. The biggest thing that we focus on is making sure that we provide excellent customer service care to all of our consumers while still maintaining those changes.

CC: I started working during COVID, but I’ve still seen what they’ve added. All employees have to check in daily with a temperature check and answer a few questions about if you been around someone with COVID. They also added a sanitation desk at the front that has a employee running it.

AS: In the past, people were able to browse the books and choose whichever ones they needed, but due to Covid-19, there’s a whole online system where you have to place an order for the book you want to borrow, and the librarian has to find it for you. Basically, it’s all done online. Another major change is regarding food in the upstairs part of the library. Since it’s a fairly small, enclosed space and masks are a necessity, they don’t allow food, because people would have their masks off for a longer period of time and it would just lead to more risks. For us as employees specifically, we have to wear gloves when handling the books, and the returned books must remain on a quarantine shelf in the back for three days. Also, only students are allowed to check out books at this time. Before Covid-19, anyone was able to check out a book from the library here, but they decided to limit the amount of exposure as much as possible this way.

HG: We have responded to COVID-19 fairly well. We have to wear masks at all times, hand sanitizer and disinfectant is provided, and we have to wipe the space when we enter and exit. We can no longer hand out borrowed items like dry erase markers, Apple TV remotes, laptops, etc. Pens/pencils can still be given out but not returned. We also have a max capacity of 20 people and, once the space is filled, I have to put a big sign out in front of the doors. Some people ignore it and walk past it though, and then I have to kick them out. 

  • How many times per day do you see people not following proper mask protocol? 

MB: I couldn’t give an exact number, but there is a significant amount of consumers that come in with a number of strange ways to wear their masks, and there’s a smaller amount who don’t come in with a mask. As company policy allows, we can tell the consumer to put their mask on, but if they do not comply, we do not have to service them for our own safety. 

CC: Probably about 2-3 times. I’ve seen customers have their noses poking out the top of their mask, people standing far too close together, and even some people taking off their mask completely.  

AS: There’s at least 3 people daily that I’ve noticed not following the mask rule, whether it’s having the mask on their chin or right below their nose. 

HG: I can’t give an exact number, but often. Some people have full friend groups at tables and do not socially distance themselves. If they’re eating food, they’re all mask-less next to each other. It’s concerning, but I can’t really do anything about it. Also, one time someone came in with their jacket tied around their nose because they forgot a mask.

  • Have your hours gotten longer/shorter as a result of current events?

MB: I work part-time seasonal, but I feel like I have a decent amount of hours. I think that hours overall have gotten longer since the holidays are approaching.

CC: My hours haven’t been altered since I started work during COVID.  

AS: This was my first semester working there, but I would say that my likelihood of getting the job went up, since fewer people were planning to be on campus while all of this was going on.

HG: Thankfully, I’m in a position where my hours are guaranteed so they have not gotten shorter. In some ways they have gotten longer, since more people need assistance with technology and we had to rotate the desk workers half-way through the semester, but other than that it has been relatively the same.

  • How has COVID-19 changed your outlook on your job?

MB: I don’t think it’s really changed my outlook on my job, surprisingly. I just have to remember to practice patience and to take things slowly sometimes when I encounter any unruly customers.

CC: Hasn’t changed much.  

AS: Honestly, wearing the mask and having to remain at a distance from people has been the biggest challenge, but I’m just thankful for the opportunity to work and have some form of normalcy throughout all of this. 

HG: It has definitely made me more cautious about interacting with others. I keep my distance and stay behind the plastic desk shields when people approach. I take the necessary precautions to disinfect the space and sanitize my hands often. When I get back to my apartment after work, I usually change out of the clothes I was wearing and disinfect any notebooks/school supplies I used while at work. I still enjoy my job, but I wish that people would take COVID more seriously. I feel safe enough in my cubicle, but if I was a student studying there, I wouldn’t feel comfortable.

  • Do you feel safe?

MB: I feel safe with the measures that our company has taken!

CC: I have to think so. I’ve had multiple co-workers catch COVID and they act nonchalant about it. In reality, I’m really worried about it, but my employer does more than the average response from other companies I’ve seen. 

AS: As the cases rise and winter is approaching, I would say I feel a bit more uneasy about everything. Not for the sake of myself, but my friends and family. However, based on how we’ve been handling everything at the library, I would say the precautions we’ve taken have helped immensely, and it makes me feel safer than I would have otherwise. 

HG: Yes and no. I feel safe enough to go to work but not safe enough to visit my older relatives without first quarantining.

  • By how much has the usual number of customers dropped?

MB: During the week, things tend to be slower. I think this is pretty normal for retail, and once the weekend comes, things pick back up. Since Black Friday is just a few weeks away, I know that things will be a little more hectic than usual, but I feel like there will be less people shopping this year in general.

CC: Its only exploded. Just a few days ago, we started reached maximum capacity for the first time in a few months. The worst part being the lack of people following social distancing guidelines and being stacked on top of each other throughout the store.

AS: Back before I even started the job, I would spend a lot of time in the library, hanging out with people and studying, and I saw many others doing the same thing. Since the beginning of Covid-19, however, I’ve seen the number of people spending time upstairs increasingly diminish. People still spend time together, but it’s a lot more isolated than it once was.

HG: Because we can only allow 20 people at a time, it’s dropped probably by 20-30%. It’s definitely not as loud and crowded as it used to be, but it can still feel too packed for a space during a pandemic.

  • What is the craziest thing you’ve seen?

MB: We’ve had a few incidents with theft. The craziest experience was when two customers walked in, one of them carrying a huge, old shopping bag, and they spent the entirety of their time in the store putting product in their bag. On our headsets, we were aware of what was going on and all of our employees came onto the floor to essentially surround the two customers. Eventually, they put product back and left the store, but it was funny because they were so obvious about it.

CC: I saw one customer with a office water jug on his head. I guess it counted as a mask. 

AS: I didn’t see this for myself, but one time while I was sitting at the front desk, I heard from my co-worker that one of the students switched the tables from one section of the library to another. Somehow, he managed to carry a huge table and move it through the glass doors into the quiet area. Apparently, it took a couple of people to move it back, so we were all puzzled as to how he was able to accomplish that.

HG: A guy came in and started handing out business cards for his landscaping business to students. I had to tell him that handing stuff out is not allowed and then he proceeded to show me photos of his children while I tried to gradually get him to leave.

  • Have any of the changes made for COVID-19 been for the better?

MB: For the most part, yes. The only thing that can be challenging is when I work the fitting room. We only have one fitting room open, and each time a customer leaves, we have to clean it out before letting anyone else in. A few times, the line has gotten long and it takes much longer for guests to use the fitting rooms. People get really frustrated and irritated and sometimes they take it out on us. Usually, I try to be as quick and efficient as possible when taking care of customers in the fitting room so we can get them in and out and satisfied.

CC: I like the cleanliness. They spray down all of the heavily trafficked areas every day. They also get a sanitation team to deep clean the stores carpet every month. I’ve heard they never came close to doing any of this before COVID.

AS: Overall, I feel like even though most of it has been fairly inconvenient, it is necessary and beneficial for the time being. Plus, by being more health-conscious, we’re probably limiting the spread of other viruses as well, which tends to happen more often during the wintertime.

HG: I think so. I’m glad that we are more conscious about hygiene and disinfect things a lot more frequently. The space is cleaner than usual and we don’t have to get up close to help strangers anymore.

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