Soaring COVID-19 case numbers thanks to the highly contagious Omicron variant has meant that a growing number of Australians, including essential workers, have been forced into isolation.
This has not only placed growing pressure on Australia's health system, but the supply chain for supermarket deliveries, resulting in low stock levels, bare shelves and staff shortages in Coles and Woolworths.
Copping the brunt of abuse from disgruntled customers are supermarket workers, who have taken to Reddit in order to plead with Australians to "stop abusing us."
"The amount of people that have come into our store purely to abuse us service workers makes me sick. Just yesterday, I had a woman scream so loudly to a coworker that everyone in the store turned to face her. Poor girl was tearing up."
"Yes, I understand that most people who need to hear this aren't on Reddit, but it needs to be said regardless. You should always treat customer service staff well, but especially right now when we are all extremely stressed and working extra shifts to make up for people who have tested positive. I actually somewhat enjoyed my job, but in the last few weeks after seeing people's behaviour all I want to do is leave."
"Stop abusing us, please! We are just trying to do our jobs. I didn't make the rules about the limits on toilet paper and meat!"
In response to this worker's appeal, Australians shared messages of support, advice and their own horrific experiences of working in retail.
"I was at Kmart just before and a Karen was right on the verge of a tantrum. Thankfully, it didn't eventuate, but I was fully prepared to get involved if it did. Based on my experience in retail, they back down pretty quickly if a fellow customer calls them out. It's even better if the employee calls them out, but that shouldn't be necessary at all, and a lot of employers will (stupidly) side with the abusive customer. That needs to change."
"OP [original poster], you're doing a great job and you and your colleagues are so appreciated by the vast majority. Please remember this — if someone needs to feel relevant and powerful by screaming at a stranger, let alone a supermarket worker, there must be some very sad and stressful things going on in their life. I pity such small and weak people."
"I was a checkout chick at Coles between the ages of 16 and 20. It's a hard enough job as it is with people yelling at you for shit that's not your fault, let alone with what's going on now. Everyone, be nice to the supermarket staff!
"OP [original poster], I'm sorry they're treating you this way. Next time someone abuses you 'accidentally' lean on the scales when weighing their fresh produce and pack their potato chips under their tinned goods."
"PSA for spectators: If you're confident enough to defuse the situation peacefully, please do so in order to redirect the person's tantrum onto yourself. For those who aren't comfortable with conflict, once the rant is over feel free to approach the abused retail employee sympathetically. Tell them you think they're doing a wonderful job and that you're sorry they have to put up with such abuse. Remind them that not everyone is an entitled scumbag. A few kind words can go a long way to making them feel better."
“Was abused as a retail worker a few times and can confirm the customers that came to me afterwards and said 'Wow that guy was a real dick, huh?' always made me feel better."
"When I was just 18, I was rostered on as a supervisor for the Easter shift. We were heavily understaffed that shift and I was yelled at and called a fuckhead, piece of shit and useless idiot by one lady, who also threw all her items on the ground in a tantrum because the EFTPOS machine was down (out of our hands to fix it). Mind you, while she was yelling at me I had to keep it together and ask her to leave or I will call the police, which made her eventually leave the store."
"This experience absolutely rocked me. It stressed me out and fucked with me mentally. When I told management about it, they pretty much replied with 'Ah damn, that sucks!' and they didn’t check the cameras or follow it up at all. In fact, that lady comes in regularly and even though I pointed her out to management they still did nothing about it. I'm obviously not looking for justice or whatever, but it sucks that somebody can come into my place of work, humiliate and freely scream at me, throw stock on the ground and still be allowed to shop there."
"Anyone screaming at a kid for just doing their job is a grade A piece of shit. I hope your managers are backing you up when it comes to standing up for yourself and kicking these assholes from the store."
"I've never walked off on a customer in my entire time working with Coles and it’s been almost 10 years. But last year, I was being screamed at by an absolute pin dick man child. I had to walk off before I screamed back louder. There’s definitely so many good customers around that are understanding and kind when I explain to them that there's no shortage of stock, it’s just getting it to the stores that's the issue. The odd few look at you like you're lying and hoarding everything out the back for yourself."
"The last couple of years has really brought out the worst in so many people. You're doing an amazing job and remember for every asshole that comes and yells at you, there's two kind people that appreciate everything you (and the rest of us at the grocery retailers) are doing to try keep shelves full."
Another Reddit thread titled "PSA about low stock levels at Woolworths and Coles" was written from the customer's perspective and was in support of stopping others from taking out their frustrations on essential workers.
Aussies were all for this message of support, with many sharing how grocery store workers have gone the extra mile for them during the pandemic — even though they've done the bare minimum as a customer.
"I was stuck at Woolies Click & Collect for 20+ minutes once because they couldn't find my order. They kept apologising, I kept saying it was fine and just sat on Reddit. When they eventually found my order a lady, who I believe was the manager, came out with it and gave me a box of Favourites for being so patient. Like, how much shit have they gotten in the past that someone just standing and waiting quietly — pretty much the bare minimum you have to do as a customer — warrants a free box of chocolates?"
"I stopped in at my local Woolies on the way home from work today. I didn't plan the trip, so I didn't have my green bags with me. No problem though, I was going to buy some paper bags. When I got to the checkout, the timid bloke at the register asked me nervously "Do you need bags?" Turns out the shop was out of all kinds of bags — paper, green and reusable plastic. The poor guy kept apologising over and over as though he thought I was going to beat him with a stick. "We can't get any, I'm so sorry. We haven't had any come in due to staff shortages, I apologise."
"Yes, it was mildly inconvenient that I had to stack everything in the car one-at-a-time, but I survived. I got the impression this poor bloke had seen his share of irate customers because of an issue he (or anyone else in the store) had no control over. As I told the poor guy, we're all just doing what we can with whatever we can get. Please be kind to each other."
"I remember during the last shortage I grabbed a variety of items, not realising that the limit was two cans total, not just two of a particular thing. The poor kid who came up to me to tell me I couldn't do that was practically shaking in their boots. Now, I'm not an asshole and I'm going to follow the rules and not make a problem for someone who's just trying to do their job. So I just apologised, clarified the instructions and took the extra items back, but it made me think...how many assholes yelled at that person that day? How many people are complete fuckheads taking out their frustrations on a minimum wage kid with no authority just doing what their boss has told them to do and will probably yell at them if they don't? Be nice to staff in tough times. They're copping some shit. Don't add to it."
And lastly: "Even in ordinary times, don't abuse the staff anywhere. It's just simple, good manners."
Some Reddit responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.