Life in times of Corona #4

Why are customers becoming more aggressive these days when it comes to Covid-19 rules and what are the implications for employees?

7 mins read

Some weeks ago I met our new team member from Schauplatz Korea Magazine, Hyeonji Ko 고현지, 22. She studies Korean language and literature at Dong-A University and lives in Busan like me. During our conversation, I learned that she works for a large Korean retail company in her limited free time. What must it be like to work a part-time job during Covid? I wanted to know more about it and invited Hyeonji for an interview.

Hyeonji, what exactly is your job?

I work in the entryway security area and check whether the customers who visit our shop follow the Covid rules. Like everywhere else in Korea, visitors must register when entering. They can do this in three different ways. They can register with their mobile phone via QR code, on a physical visitor list, or by calling a special phone number (안심콜).

Getting a part-time job these days is not easy. What was it like for you?

It’s very difficult these days. Even for a part-time job, workers are expected to have experience. In addition, the minimum wage has gone up in Korea. As a result, many companies are not so keen on hiring new workers.

But I was lucky. Until recently, I worked part-time at the university. However, this job was temporary and ended at the beginning of the summer holiday. For me, it was clear from the start that I needed another job to earn money. Then a friend contacted me. Their company was looking for a successor for my friend’s job. I didn’t think twice and applied. I am very grateful to my friend for this advice (laughs).

There are still clients who, for various reasons, do not want to comply with the Covid-19 rules. | Photographer Daniel Thomas Faller

What did your family think? Getting a part-time job as a student is always a good thing. My family said I must have been lucky. In this job, I thought I could sit all day and it wouldn’t be strenuous. But it turns out that this is not the case at all. On the contrary, it can be very strenuous

It gets very difficult when visitors attack and insult me personally.

Hyeonji Ko 고현지

What is so strenuous about your work then?

In such a big shopping center, many people from different walks of life come together. There are people who don’t have a mobile phone or are not familiar with these electronic devices. But then there are also foreigners and homeless people. So, it can be a challenge to explain the data collection to the visitors or to ask them to register via QR code. But then there are also visitors who don’t want to reveal their location. Others don’t agree with the procedures.

It gets very difficult when visitors attack and insult me personally. I am often asked if I know what I am doing here; whether I am sure this is the right thing to do. The whole thing is absurd and unnecessary. Such encounters are not easy. These times make me think about the best way to handle each unique situation and can also be very frustrating.

How do you deal with such situations?

In the beginning, I often didn’t know what to do in such situations. I remained friendly and nice and was then happy when the visitors could enter the shop. But such situations drain energy and patience. And then, when more people came asking for impossible deviations or making fun of the “system,” I ignored them in a friendly way and asked them to follow the rules.

But there can also be moments when I get angry. I must not express this to the customer. Friendliness and professionalism are the magic words. I am by nature an energetic and lively person, but over time, my face becomes more and more expressionless in such situations. Then, only my voice and words may sound friendly.

Temperature check at the entrance to the shopping center. | Photographer Daniel Thomas Faller
Here one is informed when the building is disinfected, and room ventilation takes place. | Photographer Daniel Thomas Faller

Why do you think many people are so rude?

It’s probably because many customers think that I’m just a young student. The customer is king and has a stronger position. The part-time worker, on the other hand, is on the lowest rung. Unfortunately, clients make us feel this all too often and take advantage of this situation.

And still, you do this job?

Yes, of course. As a student, I have to earn money somehow. I would also like to mention that sometimes there are very nice and friendly customers. These are often younger customers or foreigners who don’t speak Korean very well. They all follow the guidelines and then register on the visitors’ list. And when I get a 감사합니다, a thank you in Korean, it gives me a lot of positive energy again. There are also many nice staff and colleagues who help and support me. Occasionally, they also buy me coffee and snacks, which is touching.

Hyeonji Ko 고현지: always friendly and professional towards the customers. | Photographer Daniel Thomas Faller

How long will you be working here at the entrance control?

My assignment here is until the end of August 2021.

Do you have any advice for your successor?

The most important thing in this job is to listen attentively, observe, and talk to people to help them. I think problems usually arise when we don’t communicate properly. And if we are all friendly and respect each other, then nothing stands in the way of a successful day.

Yeim Choi


Yeim is a Korean native based in Dadaepo, Busan. She has many interests: immersing in different cultures, studying languages (English, Indonesian and more to come), exploring the world, hearing people's stories, writing, drawing and playing the piano. Above all, she wants to make the world a better place.

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