We know that this period feels like holiday season X 1000 for essential retailers. The volume of communication, changes and updates are happening at a neck breaking pace. Store associates are navigating constantly changing government regulations and instructions from HQ while also worrying about their own health and safety. It’s chaotic and stressful for employees. But the stories that we hear of companies taking care of their essential workers during the pandemic give us hope that retail associates are finally being recognized and rewarded for the work they do to represent brands. Here are just a few examples of companies stepping up to do right by store associates.
The Home Depot aims to live by a simple rule proposed by the company founders: Put customers and associates first, and the rest will take care of itself. Acting on its values, The Home Depot recently announced expanded benefits for associates, including, among other things, increases for overtime and additional PTO for both part time and full time workers, with special packages for employees over 65. The company is also offering paid time off for any associate who has contracted COVID-19 until they’ve been released by a doctor and up to 14 days paid time off for any associate required to be quarantined.
To improve safety and working conditions for employees, The Home Depot also distributed thermometers to store associates to ensure they’re well enough to work, eliminated promotions to avoid driving crowds into the stores, shortened hours of operations and is limiting the number of people in the store, in addition to implementing social distancing measures. The company has been widely praised for its efforts by both government officials and employees.
Rochester-based Wegmans is another company that has put employees first during the pandemic. Wegmans has publicly stated many times that it can only achieve its goals by first meeting the needs of its people. Not surprisingly, the company has stepped up during COVID-19 to support its essential workers. The Covid response page reads, “As a thank you to our employees who are working tirelessly to serve the needs of our customers, we are increasing their pay by $2 an hour during the months of March and April.” In addition, the company has expanded its paid leave and PTO policies and is making every effort to accommodate employees who are more vulnerable by offering them the opportunity to move into different roles. Finally, the COVID-19 job-protected voluntary leave gives employees the opportunity to take time unpaid if they are uncomfortable being at work.
Midwest grocery chain and Zipline customer, Hy-Vee, is another company that has put its employees first. The company acted early (mid-March) to put procedures in place to protect employees from COVID-19. Randy Edeker, Hy-Vee’s chairman, CEO and president said, “We continue to implement additional ways to adapt at Hy-Vee, so that we can serve our customers and protect the health and wellness of those who work and shop in our stores.”
The company implemented one-way aisles, installed temporary window panels on the back side of checkouts to protect both cashiers and customers and provided a 10% bonus to employees. In addition, Hy-Vee accelerated its plans to use Zipline as a way to communicate important safety information, and heartfelt thanks, to store associates across its 245 stores. Because many store associates don’t have company email addresses, Zipline provides a mobile-first platform that all employees can use to get the latest information about store safety measures and hear from executives. In fact, Randy Edeker, the CEO, takes the time to record and share a weekly video for associates, to let employees know how much their work during this time means to everyone.
In a recent Total Retail article, crisis management expert Edward Segal says, “The bottom line is this: What you do — or don't do — to address the health concerns of employees and handle any virus-related employee protests during the pandemic will likely be remembered by workers and the public long after this public health emergency ends.” While taking care of employees is the right thing to do for your people, it’s also proven to be the right way to run a business.
In fact, the data shows that employee-first companies consistently outperform companies that don’t focus on employee engagement. For example, companies on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list dramatically outperform the US workforce. Among other things, they have three times higher stock market return, half the voluntary turnover of industry averages, better customer service, higher levels of innovation and increased productivity.