Fatigue and Good Fortune: The Life of a Teenage Essential Worker

When my application to Target was accepted in March, little did I expect how unusual my job would soon become.



Target and other essential businesses have remained open throughout the pandemic, though the way they do business has significantly changed.

Rachel Morrell, Staff Writer

My story of balancing the demands of school work and a part-time job would, at any other point in recent history, hardly be unusual. It’s quite common for high school seniors to join the workforce and begin saving for college.

Little did I know, however, when I was hired at Target in March, how drastically different my experience would be.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to widespread closures, leaving only essential businesses open to the public. Many students are now out of a job. I am one of the few exceptions.

My first few days at Target coincided with radical changes in Americans’ lifestyles.

At first, trying to learn a new job and still practice social distancing was difficult and often made my work inefficient. Remaining six feet apart from my trainer when working in the backroom or stocking shelves was frustrating but necessary. It took some time to get used to the new system, but eventually I was able to adapt. 

As the number of coronavirus cases in Pittsburgh increased, so did the demands of the public. Milk, eggs, flour, and fresh produce flew off of the shelves along with toilet paper and various cleaning supplies. My work shifts were lengthened, and my coworkers and I had to restock shelves faster to make sure customers were able to buy the items they needed for their families. 

My manager now stations workers at the entrance to stop customers who are not wearing protective gear, but I’ve noticed that some customers take their masks off once they walk deeper into the store.”

Soon, Target began to put limits on the purchase of certain products, frustrating many customers and placing the staff in the uncomfortable position of fielding repeated complaints.

On more occasions than I can recall, I have had to point out the signs specifying product limits to customers who are looking to stockpile food and other items. I do my best to offer alternatives and apologize for the inconvenience, but there’s not much more I can do.

I’m naturally a people-pleaser, and it’s been hard for me not to feel disappointed in myself when customers grow upset. I never expected a job in retail to be stress-free, but there have been days over the past two months that have left me empty.

Another challenge that comes with working in a public area during the pandemic is making sure everyone is following the state-issued safety guidelines. After PA Governor Wolf mandated facial covering in public areas, my workplace took the necessary steps. In order to enter the store, employees and customers must wear facemasks. My manager now stations workers at the entrance to stop customers who are not wearing protective gear, but I’ve noticed that some customers take their masks off once they walk deeper into the store. I feel uncomfortable saying anything to these customers, but when I have to help them I begin to worry about exposure to the virus and worry about taking it home to some of my family members at higher risk. 

In addition to those demands is, of course, my most important responsibility — school. As demand at Target continue to increase, somedays I am scheduled to work from 10am to 5pm, leaving me too little time to finish my schoolwork. The transition to online school has been hard on teachers and students, but when combined with work responsibilities, it can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, I have been able to talk to my teachers to discuss due date extensions and schedule online meetings, but for other working students some schoolwork isn’t as flexible. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed immense stress on our lives. I am grateful to still have a paying job when so many others are facing unemployment. In my own small way, I am a part of the essential workforce, and, even with all of the frustration and stress that my job entails, I will not allow myself to take it for granted.