How Manufacturing HR Can Reduce Risk as COVID Reshapes Employee Interaction

As manufacturing human resources professionals cope with fear and uncertainty across their workforce, they must focus on three key areas.

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As manufacturers continue operations amid increased COVID-19 hotspots, HR leaders are confronting a new reality, forcing them to cope with fear and uncertainty across their workforce. HR professionals in the industrial sector are at the forefront of helping ensure their businesses avoid risks, maintain productivity, improve employee interaction and, most importantly, survive.

To accomplish this feat, HR professionals must focus on three key areas - safety, skills and supporting employees. Concentrating on these three areas can aid in employee recruitment and retention, reduction of costly disruptions and even boost productivity, among other things.

Here’s how HR professionals and other workplace leaders in manufacturing can come up with plans — backed by technology and tactics — to bolster safety, skills and employee support in the pandemic era.

1. Improving safety

It's imperative for companies to decide on the kind of employee experience that they’re trying to accomplish. Safety and well-being is top of mind for many workers, as state and federal workplace enforcement programs in the U.S. have received more than 25,000 coronavirus related complaints since February, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). 

Therefore, once that employee experience is defined companies are better equipped to leverage the latest best-of-breed workforce management technology solutions that support your defined employee experience. In doing so, organizations can instill confidence in their employees knowing they have taken the necessary precautions to create a safe and healthy environment. 

Additionally, in order to address these concerns new health and safety measures are now in place, and manufacturing employers must make sure employees returning to the workplace are up to speed on changes in compliance requirements. 

With an assist from talent management technology and other tools, a manufacturer can introduce compliance training to maintain a safe workplace that meets the demands of both employees and regulators. In addition, this training can help manufacturers adhere to standards issued by the OSHA and other regulatory agencies. 

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2. Training and adding to employees’ skillsets

Now, more than ever, employees must be reskilled or upskilled in order to deal with shifting roles in the manufacturing workplace. The pandemic has prompted some manufacturers to lay off or furlough workers, leaving the remaining employees, in a lot of cases, to assume new duties. On top of that, some manufacturers are diving even deeper into automation, requiring workers to acquire new technical skills.

Upskilling and reskilling can help stabilize manufacturers during this unprecedented time. Given that 78% of the National Association of Manufacturers’ member companies indicated in February and March that uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 would financially harm their business, upskilling and reskilling represent an investment in a brighter more successful future.

Talent management technology can simplify various training initiatives in the workplace, as can tools like instant messaging and videoconferencing. But don’t overlook the human touch when adopting technology to educate your workforce.

3. Supporting employees

The National Safety Council points out that the pandemic has triggered stress, anxiety, fear and other negative emotions among American workers. Employees of manufacturing plants are no exception. Many of them are worried about being exposed to the coronavirus at work and passing it along to family members or being infected themselves.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes the manufacturing work environment — production or assembly lines and other areas in busy plants where workers have close contact with coworkers and supervisors — may contribute substantially to their potential exposure. 

The National Safety Council emphasizes that transparency and education are two of the keys to helping employees overcome their coronavirus concerns. Therefore, employers must address pandemic issues as well as non-pandemic issues in a quick, respectful and accurate way. This applies to health and safety compliance, as well as everyday matters like health care coverage and PTO.

Delivering honest, up-to-date information to employees can boost camaraderie, increase employees’ confidence and control rumors. A combination of the proper policies and the proper workforce management technology enables a manufacturer to supply that information and lift up the workforce.

Requiring returning and new employees to complete safety training and certify their understanding before entering the worksite can help ease workers’ anxieties. Furthermore, employers must build training focused on these new requirements into their onboarding. Both of these elements are critical, since many manufacturing jobs are done on-site and can’t be performed remotely. As such, you might have some employees going through in-person training, others going through remote training and still others taking a hybrid approach. 

No matter how you approach this, employers need to remember how they handle the next few months will leave a lasting impression on current and new staff. Also, its good to remember that new hire onboarding is a little more challenging right now as it’s an employer’s first opportunity to align new team members to the company’s story and the philosophy. It’s also an introduction of how the company works while also serving as an introduction to its products and industry. 

That said, its critical to have a solid strategy in place. Until a vaccine is widely available it is essential for companies to take extra measures to reduce health and safety risks, as they can affect their employee morale and retention. By following guidelines set by regulatory agencies and listening to employees’ concerns about safety and wellness measures implemented, companies can enhance their employee engagement throughout these challenging times. 

Jennifer HoJennifer Ho

Jennifer Ho is Vice President of Human Resources at Ascentis, a provider of human capital management software. She joined Ascentis as VP of HR in 2018. She is a human resources leader with more than 10 years’ experience developing and growing multi-faceted human resource strategies. Prior to Ascentis, Jennifer led human resources departments for several high growth technology businesses, and has a wealth of experience in talent acquisition, training and development, compensation and benefits, and process improvement.

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