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West High at work

January 20, 2022

She took a step back as the customer launched into a rant about the wait time, letting her manager step in to deal with the situation. They tried to assure the customer that the food would be out shortly, explaining they were understaffed. Wait times had been longer all day as employees frantically tried to keep up with the steady stream of customers. The woman refused to listen, and her complaints continued. Finally, her food arrived. She snatched up the bag and stormed out of the Chick-fil-A.

“Why is she reacting like this?” Mara Caylor ’23 remembers wondering. All of the other customers had been understanding, despite the delays. Unfortunately, scenarios like this have become increasingly common due to the nationwide worker shortage. Abigail Ghabel ’22 noticed this while working at Stuff Etc at the beginning of the pandemic. 

“The behavior of customers changed a lot,” Ghabel said. “I answered the phone and I got more angry callers during the pandemic than before the pandemic.”

COVID-19 also affected worker behavior. Many employees left their jobs because of safety concerns or were let go when businesses cut costs at the start of the pandemic. Some employees have yet to return. For West High students in the labor force, the consequences of the worker shortage have added to the already difficult challenge of balancing high school and a part-time job.

It feels like you’re doing two people’s jobs”

— Mara Caylor '23

“It feels like you’re doing two people’s jobs,” Caylor said. “It’s pretty stressful being in high school with a part-time job … During the school year, they usually schedule me 16 to 20 [hours a week]. It’s more than I really wanted to work, and it’s [almost] every school night.” 

According to Caylor, her supervisors do not have any choice but to overschedule their employees due to her workplace being understaffed.

“Over the summer it was really bad. I set my max hours I wanted to work [at] 20 to 25, but it was more like 35 to 40,” Caylor said. “My [coworkers] were having the same problems as me, working way over what they wanted during the summer.”

Overscheduling is not the only reason employees are having to work longer hours. Less people on staff means tasks may take longer to complete.

“I usually close [the restaurant]. We’re supposed to get out around 8, but we have a limited number of people,” Caylor said. “Closing, because of the shortage of staff, you don’t get out until like an hour or two after we’re scheduled to.” 

Another issue is the lack of control workers have over when they are scheduled to work. Ghabel quit their job at Michael’s because they did not feel like it was a good work environment and their managers could not offer them hours that worked.

“They wanted me to work Thursday from 5 to 9, and at the time that was very stressful because I had to wake up at 6:30 or 6 to get to my Kirkwood classes,” Ghabel said. “There were only three people including myself working that night shift and they said they wanted at least five or six. There was no one there that could do the work [at] the time that they needed.”

Maggie Greer ’23 works at the Coralville Recreation Center as a lifeguard and has experienced similar issues in getting hours that work for her, but for the opposite reason. Her workplace is dominated by high school workers competing for the same hours, which can lead to unexpected problems.

“There’s a few adults that can lifeguard during the week and there’s about 10 teens that can lifeguard on the weekend,” Greer said. “[While] there are many people working, those people can all work the same hours because we all are busy during the week.”

The worker shortage has also caused higher stress levels for Greer, as more pressure is placed on individuals.

“I think with everyone, you feel overwhelmed for like two weeks and then you’ll get a week where it’s like ‘Oh, this isn’t that bad. I can handle it,’” Greer said.

Despite her job sometimes being overwhelming, Caylor is grateful for the community of employees she found at her workplace. 

“We only have a few smaller groups, and everyone that works there, especially the supervisors, are really welcoming,” Caylor said. “I really love the family we have there and that’s one of the reasons I’m staying.”

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