Prioritizing employee mental & physical health & safety

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.

Read Kronos U.S. Workforce Activity Report:

Learn about Kronos' employee contact tracing capability:


Amanda: Hello, and welcome back to Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce. I'm Amanda Del Buono. It can be argued that employee health and safety has come to the forefront of many leaders' minds since the coronavirus outbreak began. But according to today's guest, Kylene Zenk, director of manufacturing practice at Kronos, managing that can be much easier with the help of some digital technologies. Kylene, thanks for joining me today.

Kylene: Thanks for having me, Amanda. It's great to be here.

Amanda: We're going through this pandemic and things are very fluid right now. What are you seeing and hearing in regards to manufacturer's efforts to start bringing employees back, maybe more employees back because a lot of people have been running or just keeping their employees safe right now as they're running their operations?

Kylene: It's important to recognize to your point that while some industries were shut down for a period of time or in some sense limited operation during the past few months, there are a number of other industries that remained fully operational and in many instances, 24/7. So, despite tremendous disruption and unforeseen health and safety risks that have added complexity to the day to day operations, they've been able to make it work. For instance, according to Kronos in our U.S. Workforce Activity Report, aside from healthcare, the industry that's been least impacted from an overall employee activity perspective is the manufacturing industry. Many of our manufacturing clients are in essential businesses and their production lines haven't stopped during this crisis. So, thousands of manufacturers across the U.S. and around the world have continued to produce food, medical devices, pharmaceutical products, and other essential consumer goods, which we as a global community rely on for our health and safety and well-being. So, whether a manufacturer never shut down or is just starting to bring their teams back to the plant, all manufacturing organizations face a common challenge. And that's really how to address the health and safety needs of the workforce while maintaining business continuity. So, reducing risk of employee exposure to illness is a major area of focus for manufacturing leaders right now.

And that's why many manufacturers are deploying new policies and procedures, which are really designed to mitigate risk and create a work environment that's as safe as possible for our employees. I've been speaking with our manufacturing clients over the past few months and weeks. And from the discussions I've had, there are some common themes to some of the actions that are being taken. Number one, a lot of manufacturers are making adaptations to their shift in production schedules and also how they design team assignments and traffic management. And those are all in an effort to promote social distancing. Some specific actions, a lot of our manufacturers are extending time between shifts. So that allows them to add a time for enhanced sanitation procedures between traditional shift breaks. They are also staggering the shift start and end times for employees in order to reduce foot traffic at the door, or in many cases, long lines at a time clock. A number of manufacturers have been reconfiguring or slowing down their production lines or reconfiguring the lines if possible to promote social distancing.

And if they're not able to, they're leveraging plexiglass or other types of physical dividers to try to maintain that distance. And then there's, of course, a number of kinds of proactive measures that manufacturers are deploying to reduce risk. So, obviously, requiring protective equipment masks, things like that. Promoting frequent hand washing and personal sanitation. Reminding folks to wash hands frequently. Aside from limiting contact between people, they're also looking to take action that reduces frequent touchpoints with just plant equipment in the facility. So, closing breakrooms and lunchrooms or re-arranging tables to promote social distancing, keeping doors propped open if possible so people don't have to touch door handles and things like that. It sounds simple, but by installing touchless appliances such as, touchless paper towel holders or faucets. And then a number of our clients have come to us and been interested in implementing contactless time-tracking.

So, they've been looking at how to use smart card or proximity badges, or in many cases, deploying and leveraging mobile devices so people are using their own mobile devices to clock in or out. Some of the other kind of proactive measures that are being taken more and more frequently, especially as things continue to evolve so quickly, companies are starting to deploy health screening procedures in advance of a shift. So, whether the employee is at home and able to access a small questionnaire on their personal phone or maybe once they get to the property, they're able to answer some basic questions about their current health status and potential interactions with sick individuals. Of course, you're starting to see people take temperatures on-site. And if an employee meets a certain threshold, they're not able to enter the facility. So, there's just a number of things that manufacturers are proactively doing in that effort to keep their employees and create an environment that is as safe as possible given everything that's going on.

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. Because we also have to think about… while you were talking I was realizing, the stress of coronavirus can also be for some people having someone come down with an illness or something, and that can be an expense that you need that money in advance as well. So, a lot of opportunities here, it sounds like to kind of change things up in a way that benefits both the employer and the employee a little bit more.

Kylene: Yeah. I absolutely agree. And you're right. I mean, everyone talks about the risk of getting sick, but the reality is one of the challenges with getting sick is the expense of that hospital stay and the potential treatment. So, anything we can do to make it easier on our workforce and support them is something we need to be thinking about.

Amanda: Yeah, yeah. Especially as kids are starting, well, some areas are going back to school or not, a lot of different things going on in the world right now. Well, we've talked a lot about the impact coronavirus has had on the workforce, but it's important to look forward as well. And health and safety, mentally and physically, should be important all the time but why should mental and physical health and safety be a point of focus for manufacturers going forward when there isn't a pandemic? What value does it really offer to the employer?

Kylene: I agree that it's important to look forward as well. And there's a lot we can learn from what we've been facing over the past few months as a manufacturing industry. We also need to recognize the opportunities that we had even before the pandemic hit. Manufacturing has some challenges when it comes to the work experience and employee engagement. In fact, according to Gallup, across all the major industries in the U.S., manufacturing has the lowest levels of employee engagement. An alarming 75% of employees are characterized as not engaged or actively disengaged. And these numbers are pre-COVID. So, imagine that the situation hasn't improved dramatically given the stress and change that we've all been experiencing over these past few months. And, there's a logical explanation for why the manufacturing workforce may be disengaged. Traditionally, the culture of an organization is typically defined in the boardroom or the back office and not necessarily on the plant floor. This means that engagement efforts are typically focused on salaried employees. And there hasn't been enough emphasis placed on the frontline hourly worker. But in manufacturing, that typically comprises anywhere of like 80% of the workforce.

We need to turn our attention to where the majority of the workers are and understand that they have a unique experience and there are different dynamics on the plant floor than there are in the office. There are numerous studies that tell us that there's a real business case for creating a strong culture of engagement. Companies with high levels of engagement experience numerous positive benefits, reduced turnover, lower absenteeism, fewer issues with quality, increased profitability, increased productivity. Those are just a few. If the crisis has taught us anything, it's that a safe, engaged, and productive frontline workforce is crucial to supporting the financial health of the business

And in order to develop an inclusive company culture and drive engagement, manufacturers really need to act now and implement an engagement strategy that's focused on the hourly workforce. And this strategy of engagement and how to engage this group of employees needs to include policies and procedures that are designed to support their physical safety, their mental health, as well as the financial and emotional well-being of the employee and supporting, work-life balance, which means something completely different now. We're all people, we're all human beings, and we bring our whole selves to work. So we need to focus on creating an employee experience that recognizes and even celebrates this fact. And that's something that manufacturers have a significant opportunity facing them.

Amanda: Now, how can digital transformation technologies help them to reach those opportunities and enable employee health and safety or what tools can help them?

Kylene: Ensuring a safe working environment is more important than ever. It also probably feels more daunting than ever. However, these rapid advances in workforce technologies can allow organizations to streamline certain aspects of reentry into the workforce or maintaining business continuity by automating or replacing manual processes and extending management's capabilities. Now is really the time for action versus planning. If we consider how modern workforce management processes and technologies can be leveraged today to solve some of these critical challenges with maintaining business continuity, there's a couple of examples that come to mind. One, when or if an employee tests positive or is presumed positive for COVID, it's vital to immediately begin the process of contact tracing in the workplace. Workforce data such as the time and attendance records that most employers are already collecting and have that rapid access to can be a critical aid in streamlining contact tracing in the workplace. With digital tools to analyze labor records, organizations can quickly and accurately identify who worked at the same time and the same location as an afflicted employee based on the time clock punches that they have, or other attendance data collected by their workforce management system.

This is essentially allowing companies to automate what would otherwise be a very manual and probably less accurate process. So, this approach can give employers the ability to immediately remove potential contacts from the schedule and give proper direction to help reduce risk of an outbreak at work. Kronos I'm proud to say has simplified the process of employee contact tracing for our customers. Forty thousand organizations globally now have access to a free automated reporting capability that HR and management teams can use to immediately identify potentially exposed employees if notified of a presumed or positive COVID diagnosis at one of their facilities. So, technology is playing a huge role in the contact tracing process. And then as I mentioned earlier, another way technology can support what companies are going through, as I mentioned earlier, employees' well-being can be enhanced at this time. So, we need to think about offering flexibility and support in managing that work-life balance and understanding people have increased family responsibilities.

So, with modern scheduling tools, which are accessible on mobile devices, your employees can have more control and input over their schedule that allows them to do something like easily swap a shift with a colleague. So, if you have a last-minute childcare situation arise and you need to stay home from work, you can be at home, check your phone to see who's available to take your shift. The technology makes sure that the set of employees that come up as options have the right skills and certification requirements. So the business ensures coverage to meet the demand and then the employee gets the flexibility they need to attend to their personal matter. So, when it comes to workforce scheduling, aligning the right employees to meet those demands is just one part of the equation.

Technology can also provide visibility into workforce availability and capacity, so manufacturers can easily assess the skills of its employees, which is a critical step in deploying labor resources especially now if those resources are constrained due to illness or furloughs or many other situations. As we think about how we're taking care of the people that are working day to day, we know that you can potentially get tired or experience burnout if you're working long shifts or many days in a row. The other benefit of technology is that it can make sure your employees are taking the appropriate breaks. So, getting alerts to remind them to take a meal break or just a intra-shift break. We can also deploy the technology to make sure you're giving people suitable rest between their scheduled shifts, how many hours between a shift, make sure they're not leaving the plant at midnight, and then coming in at 6:00 A.M. That's not enough rest for anyone. Leverage technology to help make sure you're deploying your resources in a safe and effective way as well.

Amanda: Awesome. Well, do you have any examples of where this technology has enabled a safe working environment, maybe from your own experiences or with your clients?

Kylene: Yes. Definitely. I've connected with several manufacturers over the past few weeks, and I've heard numerous examples of how they've quickly been able to adapt their operational and HR policies and processes in order to really support, deploy, and protect their workers and they're leveraging technology to do that. So, one of our food processing customers, their products were still highly in demand. They needed to maintain a 24/7 production schedule in order to keep up with that demand for its products. Their production facility and their production lines were not conducive to physical reconfiguration. So, it was challenging for them to think about how could they promote social distancing within their facilities. They actually leveraged their workforce scheduling technology in order to create new schedule and shift patterns, which would allow them to meet their production demands but also maintain social distancing. They were able to, with the help of technology, schedule employees into smaller groups to limit the number of co-workers that each individual employee is interacting with at any given time, you're always with the same group of people. So, if something were to happen who that employee had contact with.

Another example, I know several of our manufacturing clients have turned to mobile to facilitate critical interactions between employees and the organization. So, in order to prevent potentially sick or even folks that have been possibly exposed to illness from coming to work, we've got clients that are conducting health screening questionnaires in advance of the shift. So, employees leverage their own mobile devices from their home. They quickly respond to a few short yes or no surveys, which provides the employer with critical information about their health status and recent potential exposure so they can take the appropriate action and letting the employee know whether they should come to work or not. Another example of leveraging mobile technology is rather than use a time clock for capturing employee time and attendance information, employees are able to clock in and out leveraging their own personal phone. This benefits the employee because they don't have to touch a time clock that others have interacted with. It reduces the amount of sanitation that needs to happen. In addition with workforce management tools on their phones, employees can also access any time a variety of other important information such as their schedules and the ability to make time-off requests.

And for the employer, the employer doesn't have to worry about leveraging mobile clock in and clock out because there are geosensing capabilities within the software that'll make them confident that the employees clocking in from their facility so there's no concerns about data accuracy. And they can also feel good about the fact that they don't have lines or crowds around the time clock, which could lead to limitations in social distancing. These are just a couple of examples of how workforce management technology has reduced potential exposure and helped employers promote and facilities create social distancing and also help employees feel more trusted and supported by their employers.

Amanda: Okay. Well, are there any other takeaways that you would like to share?

Kylene: The only other takeaway or comment I would make is that the most important thing that any employer can do at this time is to communicate. There's no such thing as over-communication during this time. The day to day of what we're all experiencing varies depending on where you live. And we just need to keep our employees up-to-date with the information that we have. Even if the information is incomplete, even if we don't have the answer right now but we're working on an answer, we just need to continuously communicate and keep our employees engaged with us, whether that's through management or executive leadership.

Building transparency and trust is a critical aspect of supporting the employee. And as we think about supporting that whole individual, their physical, emotional, mental health, and their financial well-being, communication and being forthcoming about changes and new processes and,  just being unsure. I mean, there's no playbook for what we're all going through. So we're all in this together, so we need to communicate and stay connected with one another. And if we do that, that's really crucial to accommodating the new employee experience that we all suddenly find ourselves experiencing. This is new for all of us and we just need to stay connected and stay together. And manufacturers need to recognize that in order to maintain that business continuity and drive the business forward, taking care of your employees should be your top priority.

Amanda: Yeah. And we talk a lot here about communication and how important that is just to helping your employees regularly understand why you're making your decisions you're making or why the company is moving one way or the other. And being transparent and communicating is always just the number one thing to keep in mind, especially right now. But definitely a practice that hopefully people are going to get in the habit of as a result of the pandemic and we'll see it going forward and a new culture continuing.

Kylene: Yeah. I couldn't agree more. And I think you're right. This is an opportunity. Let's get in the habit now and then it'll just be the part of the new normal going forward.

Amanda: Well, Kylene, thank you so much for being here today and sharing some great advice and information with our listeners about what they can be doing to transform in a way that helps their workforce.

Kylene: It's been my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me, Amanda.

Amanda: Absolutely. And thanks again to our listeners for tuning in today. As always, be sure to like and subscribe to Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce on Apple Podcast, Google Play, or your favorite podcasting app. Until next time, I'm Amanda Del Buono for "Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce." Have a great rest of your day.

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