Calgary

Businesses get set to reopen while facing employees' fears and anxieties

Employees at the Rose and Crown pub on Fourth Street S.W. have been using a tape measure as they shuffle and reposition tables and chairs in what’s emerging as the new normal in the city’s hospitality industry. What they're also trying to gauge is how their employees feel about returning to work in the midst of a global pandemic.

Some employers consult staff on changes, others allow for flexibility as Alberta's economy set to relaunch

Dennis Madden is the general manager of the Rose and Crown pub on Fourth Street S.W. in Calgary. He says five of approximately 30 employees have opted not to return to work when the bar reopens on May 14, 2020. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Managers at the Rose and Crown pub on Fourth Street in southwest Calgary have been using a tape measure as they shuffle and reposition tables and chairs in what's emerging as the new normal in the city's hospitality industry.

What they're also trying to gauge is how their employees feel about returning to work in the midst of a global pandemic.

Phase one of the province's COVID-19 relaunch strategy includes a long list of requirements and guidelines for restaurants and bars to follow, but what's not mentioned is how employers can help their employees who may be anxious or fearful about returning to what is usually a close-contact environment.

"The biggest thing is going through all the rules of the COVID-19 procedure with Alberta Health," said Dennis Madden, the general manager of the Rose and Crown.

Another hurdle he had to clear was reassuring staff of what's been done to create a safe workplace.

Madden said about five out of his approximately 30 employees said they don't feel comfortable returning to work right now and want more time to see how phase one of the relaunch goes.

Employees at the Rose and Crown pub on Fourth Street S.W. have repositioned and removed some tables and chairs to accommodate new COVID-19 restrictions for restaurants and bars in Alberta. Tables must be at least two metres apart. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

He said some employees raised concerns about face masks and hand washing while others said they're worried about handling dirty glasses, plates and cutlery.

Madden said he outlined the new cleaning and safety procedures and if any employee has a change of heart, they can take a few days off to re-evaluate whether they want to return to work.

"We just said, 'hey, your job is always here for you when you're ready. You're not forced to come back,'" said Madden. 

Take-out only

Also on Fourth Street S.W., quick-service restaurant Seed N Salt will not allow dine-in service to return on Thursday, even though the province is allowing 50 per cent seating capacity.

One of the restaurants co-owners says with the new COVID-19 health regulations it would be too difficult to manage in a smaller space and it would be too risky for customers and staff.

Melodie-Joy Miller said the decision to keep the tables and chairs off limits to customers was made in consultation with employees.

Seed N Salt, a quick-serve restaurant on Fourth Street S.W. in Calgary will not offer dine-in service even though the province will allow restaurants 50 per cent seating capacity beginning on May 14, 2020. (Submitted by Heather Merrett)

"They were much more comfortable with what we're doing now," said Miller.

"There is a separation and it is a controlled environment."

The restaurant has remained open during the pandemic but switched to a take-out and curbside pick-up business model.

Miller said some employees have still chosen not to return to work because of concerns about exposure to the coronavirus but also because it's more lucrative to continue to receive the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). 

Miller said if customer traffic were to increase in the restaurant some employees' anxiety levels would also increase.

Create your own safety

Tessa Martin, who is a registered psychologist, said employees who are returning to work and may be worried about their safety need to empower themselves "to create their own safety."

She said we should try to teach our brain to look at the world from a different place, not from a threat perspective, but from an empowerment perspective.

"Instead of expecting to go out into the world, and thinking that it's going to be unsafe, start to empower yourself and figure out where you can create safety," said Martin.

She said that could mean wearing a mask, more frequent hand washing or always choosing a physical distance to create a safe space.

Tessa Martin is a registered psychologist in Calgary. She says employees who are returning to work need to change their mindset and not look at the world as a threat, but rather a source of empowerment to establish a feeling of safety. (FaceTime)

Martin said people should also ask their employers if they can return to work on a reduced or modified schedule to start.

"So if you do have the flexibility, where you can start to maybe even discuss with your employer, like, can I start by going back to work for a couple hours a day, to be able to get back into that routine," she said.

She says people who are returning to work should start practicing getting back into a routine, such as going to bed and getting up earlier, showering, getting dressed and having a proper breakfast.

"So even if you practice right now, what it would feel like what it would look like to be successful at return to work, your brain will think that you're actually in that space. And so it's going to not feel as shocking to the system if you just expect to go back to business as usual." 

Back at the Rose and Crown, Dennis Madden is looking forward to Thursday's planned re-opening. He said they're doing everything they can to ensure a safe environment for his customers and staff.

"I have a family at home [that] I'm protecting, if I didn't feel comfortable I wouldn't be here," said Madden.


Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.

About the Author

Bryan Labby

Enterprise reporter

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.

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