Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Master of Arts


Geography and Environment


Gilliland, Jason


Food hospitality and food retail businesses underwent considerable transformations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These alterations have the potential to affect how individuals in these industries engaged with their workplaces. This thesis identifies how COVID-19 transformed food hospitality and food retail businesses in Ontario and investigates how these changes altered employee wellbeing. The experiences of 39 staff members across these two industries were collected via semi-structured interviews that took place between June 2020 and May 2021. Grounded theory analysis was used to explore this dataset and a distinct theoretical frame emerged for the food retail and food hospitality industries respectively. Results demonstrate that for food hospitality employees their workplaces provided a combination of benefits and threats to wellbeing. In contrast, food retail employees emphasized the imbalance that existed between their perceived efforts and rewards. Future studies should consider investigating how these workplaces might be adapted to better support employee wellbeing.

Summary for Lay Audience

The COVID-19 pandemic affected the lives of Canadians through changes to daily activities. This included the introduction of lockdowns, mask mandates, and remote work. These alterations were distressing for many people especially essential workers. This group continued to do their jobs in person and were therefore at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Two groups deemed essential were food hospitality workers and food retail workers. The food hospitality industry includes businesses such as restaurants that serve hot meals. The food retail industry includes businesses such as grocery stores that sell food that can be cooked at home. It is essential to study how working in these fields during the pandemic may have affected employees’ health. This project performed interviews with workers in Ontario’s food hospitality and food retail industries. The goal of this research was to gain a broad understanding of their experiences of working during COVID-19. As well, it attempted to highlight any challenges employees faced while working. Findings show that there were distinct narratives for each workplace. Food hospitality employees experienced a mixture of supports and threats to their wellbeing. For food retail participants, discussions centered on how their workplaces had an imbalance between their perceived efforts and rewards. They also discussed how this situation left them feeling burnt out. As the world recovers from COVID-19, this research is applicable to industry stakeholders, policy makers, and public health officials. Findings serve as a record of the trying working conditions and pressures that these two populations experienced during COVID-19.

Available for download on Friday, January 31, 2025