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5 policies that can keep your employees safe and your shop floor running

Mar 20, 2020

First of two parts
Part 2: Effective and safe options during COVID-19

In challenging, uncertain times, employees are watching their leaders and business owners. How you’re responding to COVID-19 and treating them as employees will shape their opinion of you and your business for a long time. The right response not only protects their wellbeing but also can prove a retention tool in the long run. 

This is not a time for “business as usual.” Amending your policies and procedures makes a cultural statement that you care about your employees’ health, and it helps ensure you can keep production running. Below are five policies you should consider implementing now:

1. Provide extra PTO, sick leave or UTO

Paid time off (PTO), sick leave and unspecified time off (UTO) are rapidly evolving topics right now. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act signed into law on March 18 mandates that companies with less than 500 employees provide those employees up to 80 hours of emergency paid leave (employers can apply for tax credits equal to these benefits to offset the costs).

Whether or not you have less than 500 employees, making sure your employees can stay home if they are ill is the primary recommendation for being able to keep your company running. One sick person who comes to work has the possibility to eventually shut down your entire production if enough employees become infected because of it.

And your shop floor employees know it. We’re seeing frustration with management on a lack of communication or action. The last thing you want is to be perceived as not caring about your employees’ health and wellbeing. Plus, with symptoms of the virus sometimes taking up to two weeks to show up, you can’t afford to wait for COVID-19 cases to strike in your county to take action. 

What we’re seeing manufacturers start to do is provide unlimited sick time, provide additional PTO or allow employees to go into the negative on sick time. They are communicating to employees that if they are sick, they can stay home without having to fear disciplinary action or other negative consequences.

2. Ask anyone who can to work from home

While shop floor personnel won’t be able to work from home, a lot of other employees can. Whether it’s engineers who support the shop floor or personnel who write quality control programs, every employee you can take off site makes social distancing easier and more effective for the employees who do have to be on site. 

It’s equally important to communicate new policies to all employees. Those who have to be on site need to know you’re taking measures to promote the same level of security and wellbeing — from cleaning and quarantining to limiting outside visitors — as remote employees are receiving. 

3. Ask employees where they’ve traveled

Because we’re in spring break season right now, a lot of employees have been traveling or were supposed to be traveling on vacation. The key action to take now is to ask employees to report where they have just traveled to. If their destination puts them at higher risk of COVID-19 infection, ask them to self-quarantine for 14 days. You’ll have to pay them, but you’re essentially paying to keep the rest of your employees healthy and able to continue production. People who can’t afford not to come to work will come to work, and those consequences are vastly more expensive than ensuring they can safely quarantine themselves for a responsible period of time.

4. Close plants to visitors

We’re seeing manufacturers ask customers to stop all non-essential visits to their plants so they can limit the risk of exposure to their employees.

It’s especially important in customer-regulated production to be proactive and reach out to your customers. Work with them to help implement this policy and keep your employees safe while still being able to meet customer needs.

5. Quarantine inbound materials

COVID-19 appears able to survive for longer on certain surfaces. While it disappears from copper surfaces in four hours, it can remain on cardboard for over 24 hours and on stainless steel and plastic surfaces for three days.

With this in mind, create policies for the quarantine of inbound materials. Evaluate what critical components you need to move into production right away, what safety measures you can take around those materials and expand quarantine for certain materials.

Make sure to manage communication effectively

One big roadblock to putting into place these five policies — as well as the effective separation and effective cleaning procedures we talk about in part 2  — is communication. If not done right, it could lead to confusion, frustration and lower morale.

One way you can ensure it’s done right is through change management: a methodology and process for managing the people side of a change, including unanticipated changes.

Because active and visible leadership is a huge component of successful change, it’s important as a first step to put together a change team who is responsible for planning, executing and monitoring the change. They will work together to:

  • Set the vision and goals
  • Help define the change and the scope
  • Attend key meetings
  • Make themselves available to the other team members
  • Expect results and hold the team accountable

At the top is the executive sponsor, who is accountable for the team’s success. This person provides overall guidance and leadership along with resources to help ensure the change can be achieved. 

Most critically, here’s how the change team should engage with the overall organization:

  • Articulate the vision and goals of the change
  • Communicate the need for the change to all employees
  • Clearly set expectations for employees and mid-level managers/supervisors
  • Represent the project to peers
  • Educate key stakeholders
  • Stay visible and be a champion of the change throughout the process

And remember that listening to employees is essential. Having face-to-face discussions, focus groups or just quick meetings with employees can provide insight into what they are dealing with and possibly afraid of, which helps your change team implement a more comprehensive and effective change management strategy.

Putting together a change team is step one of the overall change management process. We dive deeper into the other steps in our unanticipated change response playbook.

Shop floor safety

What measures has your shop floor taken in response to COVID-19? Share your ideas and thoughts on what’s worked for you so far, and we’ll share them with other manufacturers. And don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about policies and procedures that can help during this time, or if you need any support.

We’re also here to help you navigate the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on your people, finances and business. We have developed a library of resources in our COVID-19 resource center to help you stabilize today and prepare for tomorrow.

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Mark Stevens
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Brett Polglaze
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Joe Girard
Sr. Business Developer
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