A Crucial Part in a Well-Oiled Machine: The Tale of an “Essential Worker”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been one phrase that was introduced and used repeatedly: “essential worker.” The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines an essential worker as “those who conduct a range of operations and services that are typically essential to continue critical infrastructure operation.”

Currently, there are over 33 million essential workers in the United States. These workers range anywhere from delivery drivers to medical professionals to restaurant employees. Each of these industries are part of a ‘well-oiled machine’ in keeping the world fed, clothed, and cared for. Over this past year, these important workers were expected to stay on their jobs and continue working while so many others were sent home.

In Beckley, W. Va., there are three Chick-Fil-As located at the Crossroads Mall, Beckley Galleria, and on Harper Road. Each of these restaurants are owned by Richard Jarrell and employ over 200 workers. Throughout the pandemic, all of these workers continued coming to work to ensure safe, fast, and efficient service of food and care.

One worker in particular at the restaurant felt the direct impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on the industry and the changes that had to be performed within the business themselves. Michelle Lowe, Marketing Director at these three Chick-Fil-As located in Beckley, says that this past year has changed many things for her and her job. 

Chick-Fil-A has always prided themselves in fast service and “being more than just selling chicken.” So, during a time when going the extra step for the safety of your customers is imperative, Chick-Fil-A employees in Beckley were up for the task.

“We were one of the only restaurants open. We were providing food, taking it to other essential workers and we were a place where they could come when they were away to eat.”

Michelle Lowe

Chick-Fil-A had now become more than just a place to eat; it had become a safe place for others to get away from some of the job stressors that this virus had caused.

Being an essential worker was new to many employees. Before the pandemic, the thought of being essential was geared to only health care workers and medical professionals and the thought had never crossed a lot of their minds. Michelle was one of those employees, along with many of the staff at the restaurants.

“It was interesting to think about; you think Healthcare workers, First Responders, those people are essential, and we kind of had an idea of that. But that some 15-year-old kid was essential to get them their food or go to the kitchen to make stuff, it definitely was a different thought process.”

Michelle Lowe

Michelle refers to each of these things as part of a well-oiled machine working together so that each gear can efficiently perform.

“Not that the people weren’t essential before, we just have a greater appreciation for every person needing to do their part so that all of this can run; so that a doctor can be there to administer care to a COVID patient, all of these other things have to happen in order for them to run. Including a truck driver getting chicken to a Chick-Fil-A so we can feed that doctor.”

Michelle Lowe

On a more personal level, Michelle felt a complete shift in her job responsibilities. As a marketing director, she was in charge of all events, fundraisers, product promotion, and advertising on social media. When the pandemic hit, “all of that ceased,” Lowe said.

“My job changed from being marketing to a new position that we have never had to have before, everything became about pushing safe-service, contactless, and employee safety.”

Michelle Lowe

Her new responsibilities included making decisions about keeping up with CDC guidelines and protocols-washing hands, glove wear, taking employee temperatures at the start of the workday, tracking symptoms, purchasing new equipment to help ensure safety of customers and making everything as contactless as possible. Even now, although some guidelines have been lifted here in West Virginia, she is still having to keep up with all of this and now vaccinations as well.

One thing that many of us are not aware of is the behind the scenes of the past year many essential workers have faced. Michelle says that she, “became a counselor to many of the workers” because they were afraid for themselves and for their families. Coming to work each day while others were able to isolate at home was concerning for many individuals. Especially those with older or immunocompromised family members.
This is one struggle that us consumers do not get to see. We may just have seen a smiling Chick-Fil-A worker, but behind every “My pleasure,” there could have be anxiety and worry.

Looking to the future, Lowe believes it will be interesting to see how many consumers are interested in going back to dining rooms and how consumer spending will change. Along with this, she is interested in seeing how consumer attitudes will change towards essential employees.

Overall, throughout this past year, not everyone was able to work from home. There were many that had to continue showing up to their job in order for everyone else to survive. Chick-Fil-A Employees were one essential group continually serving and adapting. We cannot thank restaurant employees and other essential workers for their service throughout this unprecedented year.

by Alexis Bolen

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