Midcounties Co-operative travel agent Debbie Johnson recently chose to take temporary work at Co-op’s food division. She speaks to TTG about making the switch
Midcounties Co-operative travel agent Debbie Johnson has temporarily swapped booking holidays for manning supermarket tills, stacking shelves and delivering food to vulnerable elderly customers after signing up to work in Co-op’s food division during lockdown.
Debbie, who has worked for Midcounties Co-op for more than six years and who up until three weeks ago worked across two agencies in Bloxwich and Walsall, decided to make the change after the company announced agents could work in different sectors of the business while its agencies closed due to coronavirus lockdown.
Agents were also given the option to go on furlough or to work from home.
Debbie, who now works at Co-op Food in Bloxwich, explains her decision: “Personally I would have struggled to sit at home. My son is currently on furlough as he works for a brewery and my husband is retired, so all three of us would have been at home.
“I have elderly parents too and they’re not in the best of health so working has taken my mind off not being able to see them.”
She adds that joining the supermarket as a key worker has allowed her to feel more involved in helping others during the coronavirus crisis. “It’s nice to feel useful in this situation. We all feel a bit out of control, so it’s good to be able to help in a little way.”
Debbie says the biggest change has been adapting to the physical nature of supermarket work. “It’s really hard work compared to an office job. I thought my legs would drop off after the first few days,” she laughs.
Debbie has seen some familiar faces since working at the supermarket too. “I’ve bumped into clients. Some of them were really surprised to see me there. They might then ask me about their holidays and I can reassure them that [the agency is] still operating even though the shop is shut and that my colleagues can still help.
Despite the differences between the two jobs, Debbie says some of her skills are transferrable. “The customer service skills always stay with you.”
She adds that customers have largely been very encouraging about the hard work she and her new colleagues are doing at the supermarket. “My experience has been positive – I’ve had lots of people thanking me for what we’re doing to keep the supermarkets open, especially older people. They’ve been very appreciative.”
In what are tricky times for everyone, Debbie adds that the new temporary job has given her a fresh perspective, and she advises other agents thinking about temporary supermarket work to do it.
“You get a lot out of it. I’ve been in travel for more than 30 years now so you get used to your routine and you don’t always have to think outside the box.
“Now I’m in a new environment where I’m the new girl and it’s surprised me how much I know already from travel. I can work a till, I can speak to customers and explain things to them – and I can make them smile.”