A recent University of Arizona study, conducted in partnership with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99 union, found that the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on the mental health and wellness of grocery store workers.
Researchers sought to discern the perceptions of mental health risks among frontline essential workers and the distress personally experienced by grocery store employees. A sample of 3,344 supermarket associates in Arizona – all represented by a labor union – during the first wave of the pandemic in July 2020 showed that 22% of grocery workers reported symptoms of severe anxiety and 16% reported symptoms of severe depression. Workers who described themselves as financially disadvantaged and under the age of 55 reported particularly high feelings of anxiety.
In a reflection of grocers as employers, the study determined that the availability of safety training and policies governing consumer behaviors were linked to workers’ sense of safety and protection. The largest predictor of feeling protected at work was having access to safety training: Union-member respondents with access to safety training were twice as likely to feel safe as those without such training.
Although mental well-being was cited by many respondents, the study also found that nearly two-thirds (62.2%) of respondents perceived their workplace to be safe during the pandemic and more than half (52.5%) said that their employer offered various protections.
With the latest headlines on the emergence of yet another variant of concern, Omicron, workers’ mental health and wellness are likely to be top of mind again in early 2022. “The complex situation of the grocery store worker and other employees in the retail sector needs to be considered to mitigate the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the researchers concluded, adding, “As the pandemic continues, coordinated, equity-based policies and worker safety initiatives are needed that place the health and safety of the employee at the center.”
The work of one of the study’s researchers, Brian Mayer, Ph.D., was supported by the Natural Hazards Center’s Quick Response Research Award Program, based on work supported by the National Science Foundation.