'My heart was pounding': Woolworths employee reveals trauma of panic buying

Josh Dutton
News Reporter

A Woolworths employee claims staff are struggling to cope due to ongoing panic buying.

The supermarket announced earlier this month it would allow customers to only buy two packs of toilet paper at a time to ensure there was enough to go around amid fears of coronavirus.

Such has been the extent of hysteria over buying toilet paper rolls, some customers have even been filmed getting into physical altercations over it. It’s even alleged one customer threatened another with a knife over toilet paper.

Women brawl over toilet paper in a Sydney Woolworths. Source: Facebook

A Woolworths employee living in Victoria wrote on Facebook “people don’t understand” how difficult it has been for those working in supermarkets.

“I’ve used barricades several times this week while filling the toilet rolls and my heart was absolutely pounding while having to take pallets of toilet paper out into the aisle,” she wrote.

She added she shared how she was feeling with a co-worker.

“He held out his hands to show me how much they were shaking,” she wrote.

“All because we had to fill the toilet paper rolls.”

The woman, who spoke to Yahoo News Australia under the condition of anonymity, said there’s “definitely some anxiety” among Woolworths employees going to work at the moment.

“Not just me, lots of workers are anxious and have had to really get themselves motivated to go to work,” she said.

Shoppers at a Sydney Woolworths rush to buy toilet paper earlier this month. Source: 7News

The woman added she wants customers to know staff have been “working their a**** off” to ensure shelves are filled with toilet paper.

“People don’t understand how far down the line this goes but we have been genuinely working so hard to get through this,” she said.

A Woolworths spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia the supermarket does not tolerate “aggressive or abusive behaviour” towards staff “in any circumstance”.

“It is important that everyone remains calm and treats our teams with respect as they work hard to support our local communities,” the spokesperson said.

“Woolworths continues to offer our team members access to counselling services and will provide ongoing support.”

The spokesperson added the supermarket knows its teams “are doing the best they can during these busy and challenging times” and thanked customers for their “continued patience and support”. 

Gerard Dwyer, the national secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association, told Yahoo News Australia in a statement “enough is enough”.

“Too many retail and fast food workers are being abused at work as well as being threatening and physical violence,” Mr Dwyer said.

“It is simply unacceptable even in a time of shopper stress and uncertainty. Shoppers must understand that retail workers are doing all they can to reasonably meet their needs.

“The SDA has been discussing the issue with employers and welcomes efforts by retailers to protect the safety of their workers.”

Why are people going nuts for toilet paper?

Western Sydney Local Health District’s acting executive director of mental health Professor Bill Brakoulias told The Pulse, a health news site, that people are displaying hoarding behaviours.

It’s why we’re seeing people buying so much toilet paper.

He compared it to the behaviour of squirrels putting away acorns for the winter.

“When people get anxious they have what’s called ‘catastrophic cognitions’ – they think of the worst case scenario – and one way of controlling this anxiety is to collect things and keep things in order to feel safe,” Professor Brakoulias told the publication.

In a Melbourne Woolworths a man searches for toilet paper. Source: Getty Images

Earlier this week, Professor Nicholas Carah, from the University of Queensland’s School of Communication and Arts, told Yahoo News Australia he’s not entirely sure what set off the “initial wave of panic buying”.

“But, I think you can say that one of the features of societies like ours is that we rely on media to make sense of what is going on, and in times of crisis we find out just how important media is in coordinating everyday life,” Professor Carah said.

“I think both news organisations and social media are playing a role here because they are both circulating images of empty shelves. What people are responding to is not a legitimate need for toilet paper, but a now legitimate sense that there’s a shortage of toilet paper.”

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