Remember a few years ago when doctors and nurses received their just due as real heroes? As they put their lives on the line to save sick patients during the early days of COVID-19, the American public went out of its way to thank them and show appreciation.

Fast forward to 2022, and some people treat medical professionals as villains, because they think that their medical degree from the University of YouTube beats an actual medical degree. In extreme cases, doctors and nurses have been verbally or even physically assaulted for giving the “wrong” medical treatments or diagnosis for COVID patients. So two years after being hailed as heroes, people are getting out of the medical field because of the abuse they receive.

Look elsewhere, and you’ll see further erosion of basic civility. Traffic fatalities have soared during the COVID pandemic, as more people are stressed and reckless. Videos of people getting violent at restaurants or demanding to speak to the manager are put online regularly. You couldn’t have expected it at the start of this pandemic mess, but one of the side effects has been the loss of empathy. We as a people are more selfish, quicker to anger and prone to rude and insulting behavior. If people find that their service is a bit slow or the menu item they want to eat is unavailable, they fly into a rage. One of my local restaurants has a sign prominently posted at the entrance asking customers to be nice to the staff who came into work that day. You don’t create a sign like that unless something happened that caused you to create the sign.

As a business owner or a manager, this lack of civility leaves you in a difficult spot. We’ve been taught that the customer is always right. What about the times when the customer is a jerk? What do you do if an employee is getting screamed at by someone, either over the phone or in person? You need to step in and take the heat off your employee. Try to diffuse the situation if you can and see what the cause of the outburst is. If you can answer with a logical response or offer an explanation about why your meat market isn’t offering a specific type of sausage that day, great. But if you are dealing with an irrational person who is bound and determined to take all their worldly frustrations out on you and your staff, you don’t have to stand for it. You can sever a relationship, and you can throw someone out of your store. Not every business relationship is healthy, and if you lose a customer but gain more serenity in the process, it may be worth the hit to your bottom line.

The customer is not always right. For those in a customer-facing job, it just takes one toxic person to ruin a day or even a week. Standing up for your employees when you need to will go a long way to soothe those bad feelings.

Sam Gazdziak