The Nightmare Before Christmas: Retail workers relive the ‘trauma’ of working the festive holiday

Tis’ the season for panic buying, bad manners… and being doused in coffee

BIG businesses such as Primark, Tesco and McDonald’s are completely swamped by a barrage of customers over Christmas.  

Clothes are flying off the racks, Big Macs are sliding across the counters and toys are being snatched off the shelves. 

For workers this is the most stressful time of the year.

Whether you are an employee or a customer, no-one really enjoys the fever dream that is shopping in December. 

In other words, Christmas shopping is hell. 

Ironically, carols of love and unity are played and replayed as shoppers battle their way through the crowds, argue with employees, and fight over the last PlayStation in stock. 

Between the eager early shoppers and the panic buyers on Christmas Eve, retail workers have the joy of witnessing the worst of human behaviour; the selfish, the rude and the greedy. 

So, the question is, what is it really like to work for these big businesses over the Christmas holidays?

Driving-Thru for Christmas

Sam Bennett, 20, who worked as a crew member in McDonald’s for two years, said: “The closer it got to Christmas the busier it was, especially Christmas Eve, but even then, the managers expected the same efficiency and output.

“I just looked less and less forward to each shift.” 

Ben Parker, 24, a former shift manager at McDonald’s in Skewen, said: “It is amazing how angry people get over burgers and chips. 

“The number of university students and teenagers that get berated and screamed at by customers and then stressed out by managers, all to hit arbitrary speed targets that mean nothing to them, is disgusting. 

“Miss out a ketchup and it’s Armageddon. People seem to forget that everyone who works there is human and can make mistakes.” 

If orders were 100% perfect every time there would have to be robots behind the counter.”

Ben Parker

Ebony Creed, 20, who worked as a crew member on three consecutive Christmas Eves at a McDonald’s in Swansea said: “It was honestly such a traumatic experience,

“I have had food thrown at me, people shouting in my face and people walking into the kitchen area to demand food.

“On one Christmas Eve, I had an older lady throw her hot coffee onto the till area which ended up splashing me – it was not a nice experience.”

McDonald’s have been contacted but have not yet offered a response.

After working in McDonald’s, Ebony became a barista at Costa Coffee in Swansea’s Moto Services. 

Ebony said: “Customers were really impatient and rude, especially the older generation.

“Everyone has had to work, so they must know what it feels like to be under so much pressure.”

It is not hard to just be nice to someone, to smile and to say thank you.”

Ebony Creed

One of Swansea Moto’s youngest Costa employees, Joe Mackenall, 18, worked on Christmas Day last year.  

Joe said: “It was unconventional to work – I did not want to leave my home, but I had to go to work. Thankfully, everyone was in a happier mood because it was Christmas Day.”

Have yourself a very messy Christmas

Imogen, a customer assistant at New Look in Cardiff, asked us not to use her full name said shoppers forget their manners. “It is hell when it’s Christmas,” she said.

“It feels quite disrespectful when we are tidying, and people just drop stuff and leave it there.

“We get a lot of issues with people kicking off about orders, but we cannot control when your orders show up.

“I think customers forget that the people who work in the store do not own the store.”

Carys Hope, 21, worked at Primark in Swansea aged 16 on a Christmas temporary contract.

Carys said: “In a store that big, you really do feel like a number, not a person.

“I was in the children’s department filled with frustrated mothers and crying babies and that was not a positive experience at all.

“I saw a lot of selfishness between customers, like arguments over the last size  – it was a very strange thing to see over Christmas.

“I would find items dumped by customers everywhere. People would just leave baskets of clothes on the floor because they decided not to buy them – it just all felt really disrespectful. 

“People would pull all the folded clothes apart and you would have to spend your whole day refolding the same clothes on the same table all day long

I don’t think people realise what they are doing or even see how much work goes into keeping a store like Primark clean.”

Carys Hope

Primark have been contacted but have not yet offered a response.

Santa Claus is shipping to town

Ben Parker, after working in McDonald’s, worked as a stower and picker at Amazon’s Swansea warehouse on a three-month contract over Christmas. The job involves locating the goods that customers have ordered.

Ben said: “In short, you are a small cog in a very large machine, from the get-go you feel like a number, not a person.

“If you are a strong-minded person this job might suit you as you spend a lot of time alone.

“I would have shifts where I did not see anyone except for on breaks, no human contact for two to three hours at a time. 

It is a very good paying, but very soul-destroying job.”

Ben Parker

A spokesperson for Amazon said: “We’re really proud to keep investing in Swansea and in recent weeks we’ve recruited an extra 500 local employees to support our fulfilment centre through the busy Christmas period and beyond.

“The fact is, if you want to work in a warehouse, you’ll want to work at Amazon. In addition to offering competitive pay and benefits we ensure everyone is supported, treated with dignity and respect, gets regular breaks, and works at a comfortable pace. 

“But we know we’re not perfect, and we’re always working hard to listen and improve.”

All I want for Christmas is some understanding

Ann Watkins, 63, worked in a Marks and Spencer store in Swansea for 10 years up until her retirement in November 2022. 

Ann recalled: “People were not particularly understanding. If I was on the till and there was a queue of four or five people, they would say ‘why are you not opening another till’? They just could not understand that we were short-staffed.”

Jacob Evans, a customer assistant at Lego’s Cardiff store said: “People become more hostile and more sensitive.

“Most issues are clearly not our fault. It is usually because the systems are slow, not us.

“More young people are understanding of what it is like to work in places like this, whereas elders tend to question you.”

Alicia Woods, 20, who worked at Tesco for over a year, said: “The lead up to Christmas was fun but the hours were longer and there was a lot more pressure.

“When we were in lockdown, the upstairs section of the store was closed, and a dad was in the store shouting at me because he could not get a certain Christmas present for his child. 

“There was nothing I could do to help him, so he just continued having a go at me.

Customers should really understand more about the pressure that employees are feeling during this stressful period.”

Alicia Woods