Managing employee health & safety with digital technologies

Aug. 12, 2020
Amanda Del Buono interviews Kylene Zenk, director of manufacturing practice at Kronos

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, employee health and safety has come to the forefront of many leaders’ minds. To help those leaders put thought into action, Amanda Del Buono interviews Kylene Zenk, director of manufacturing practice at Kronos, about how digital technologies can help manufacturers be more attentive to their employees’ overall well-being. The following is an excerpt from the interview. The full transcript is available here.

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Amanda: So, we've all noticed the increase in stress that the pandemic has put on all of us, and that's on top of just trying to stay healthy right now and keep your family healthy. Wondering what advice you have for leaders in manufacturing for how they can support their employees mentally and physically while working during the pandemic.

Kylene: My advice is to consider this situation not just as a business leader or a manager, but more importantly, as a human being. We need to try to understand the various implications that the workforce is experiencing. Obviously, how they work and their job has changed, but what health and safety concerns they might have, and also, more importantly, how their personal and family life has been affected. This is such a new dynamic for all of us and, almost everyone's lives changed in some fashion dramatically, overnight, from how and where we work to how and where our children are educated or cared for, to restrictions or recommendations on our movements. And then, of course, just new fears and anxieties about potential illness. So, manufacturers and manufacturing leaders need to adapt to this new normal and recognize that the pandemic has created ultimately a new employee experience. We need to understand that this new employee experience extends beyond the workplace and look for opportunities to support employees in all aspects of their lives. For example, many of us now have competing priorities and new time constraints at home due to daycare closings or camp closings right now. Who knows what the situation with school is going to look like in the fall, people's partners or spouses have experienced job loss or other changes brought forth by the pandemic.

So, even if your employees are back at work, they may not be thinking about work all the time and engaged in work, and they may be thinking about their personal lives and what's happening there. So, I would encourage manufacturing leaders to look for opportunities to provide flexibility, especially for the frontline manufacturing workforce. And a lot of times when managers think of flexibility, the first thing people automatically think of is working from home. Well, obviously, that's not an option for most frontline manufacturing employees, but there are other ways we can provide flexibility to the frontline workforce, and we need to be creative in that approach. So, one option is to implement HR policies that enable your employees to easily make changes to their work schedule as needed. Things are going to come up. Maybe they need to take a day off, swap a shift with a colleague in order to accommodate a personal priority.

Another option to consider, many manufacturers have attendance policies for their frontline workers that may be punitive in nature if they call out sick or show up a few minutes late, we need to understand that this is not business as usual. So, consider adapting or even suspending such policies during this time, as we all have extenuating circumstances that make our day to day much more complicated. And as the situation continues to evolve and we all have personal demands, the manufacturing leadership does need to look for new ways to give frontline employees flexibility with their time and work schedules. Another personal impact that many of us are feeling, and although it's not a new dynamic for most of us, financial stress is very prominent and it's been exacerbated for many of us during this time. So, also keep in mind that your employees may be experiencing enhanced financial pressure due to the loss of income or potentially increased expenses resulting from the pandemic. So, as an employer, you should consider what opportunities you have to support financial wellness as well. A lot of employees live paycheck to paycheck. That's just a reality.

And in fact, according to Salary Finance, 32% of workers will run out of money before payday. So, imagine how stressful it is to not have access to cash to pay your bills or fix an unexpected issue, like a broken-down car or taking care of a family situation. As an employer, you can help. You can offer financial wellness options. There's financial coaching programs to help educate people on how to budget or save money. There's also an emerging capability around offering earned wage access to your employees, which is essentially a pay advance on the money they've already earned. So, if you have a two-week pay cycle, you get paid biweekly and your employees want to access the money that they've earned for the first half of that pay cycle. You can make that very easy for them to do. That's becoming a lot more prominent in employees and employers are appreciating the support that can be provided to employees during this time. So, that's just, again, that idea of thinking creatively about how you can support and provide inflexibility during this time.

Amanda: Great. That's such an awesome idea to kind of pay it forward.

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