Deep Dish #13: FRESHER and Employee Wellbeing

Deep Dish #13: FRESHER and Employee Wellbeing

By: Alexandra Overvelde and Olivia Caruso

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the stress felt by individuals who are a part of the food hospitality and food retail industries. For instance, FRESHER interview data has found that employees in these sectors were encountering an increased workload and did not feel appreciated for taking on additional tasks such as cleaning more frequently and enforcing distancing requirements to protect their workspaces. Customers were potential vectors of COVID-19 and in some cases, sources of violence, as they could be belligerent towards food hospitality and food retail staff or resist following protective measures put in place by establishments. FRESHER’s interview participants described that these experiences bred frustration, negativity, and stress.

That was difficult being in a situation where there is a large amount of the public that just didn’t believe it was a problem, and they take their frustrations out on you as a front line, type of worker. When they want to come in and they can’t sit at the bar, and we have to say oh sorry we can’t do that.

Hospitality Worker: Thunder Bay March 2021 H-049

I think my worst experience would be some impatient, rude customers, and how they really are not respectful not only to me but to other shoppers, and everyone’s personal boundaries.

Grocery Store Worker: Windsor March 2021 R-023

Although employers and management were combatting difficulties related to this industry, workers were also struggling with their personal finances. Many employees in food hospitality and food retail faced financial and job insecurity. A significantly higher number of food hospitality employees reported that their hours of work and their wages had greatly decreased since the pandemic compared to food retail workers. This may be connected to the drastic cuts in hours when lockdowns occurred, when businesses could only operate delivery and takeout services. In the food retail industry, grocery stores experience an increase in demand and yet the number of workers whose hours stayed the same or increased was not different from employees in food hospitality. Schedules often fluctuated week to week depending on the number of staff that the food retail business had available. Some interviewees described their employers’ asking them to stay longer than their shift whereas others would have their hours suddenly dropped when more individuals were hired. Additionally, wages in both food hospitality and food retail industries tended to be minimum wage positions and perhaps did not keep up with the arduous nature of work during the pandemic.

Perceived changes in wages for employees who participated in FRESHER’s survey

But what does this all mean now, as we adapt to a world where COVID-19 is heading towards being an endemic disease rather than a pressing global health concern? Restaurants are open for business, distancing stickers have been removed from floors, and grocery stores no longer have lines of people out their doors to maintain capacity limits. Employers that made it through the past three years are perhaps starting to feel stable in their business pursuits again. However, employees may still carry the weight of their pandemic experiences with them to work every day.

FRESHER’s survey of employees and employers (May 2020- June 2021) collected information about individual’s levels of positivity towards themselves and their futures.  Positive outlook was measured using a validated assessment tool called the Positivity Scale (Caprara et al., 2012). The Positivity Scale contains eight questions that measure life satisfaction, faith in the future, and self-confidence using five responses ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree to estimate the extent to which a person has an optimistic perspective on their life (Caprara et al., 2012). A person’s score on the Positivity Scale can range from very low (1) to very high (5) positive outlook.

Average positivity score for the four population groups that took part in FRESHER’s survey

Employees’ average score on this scale was significantly lower than their employers. This points to a less than optimistic outlook on their lives and futures. This may be connected to the direct risk of exposure to COVID-19 that workers were in compared to their employers and managers. High perceived risk from the pandemic has been correlated with lower scores on the Positivity Scale (Yıldırım & Güler, 2021). It is yet to be seen how this loss of life satisfaction, faith in the future, and self-confidence will have consequences for a person’s mental well-being over time. Therefore, although FRESHER only represent a snapshot of the early stages of the pandemic, its findings may continue to have explanatory power for the long-term effects on individuals within the food industry in Ontario.


Caprara, G. V., Alessandri, G., Eisenberg, N., Kupfer, A., Steca, P., Caprara, M. G., Yamaguchi, S., Fukuzawa, A., & Abela, J. (2012). The Positivity Scale. Psychological Assessment, 24(3), 701–712.

Yıldırım, M., & Güler, A. (2021). Positivity explains how COVID-19 perceived risk increases death distress and reduces happiness. Personality and individual differences, 168, 110347.