Thursday | 16 April | 2020
By Anja van den Berg
Workers at grocery stores, pharmacies, petrol stations and other essential services are working overtime – with their health at risk – to keep the country running. The companies they work for need to take care of them to keep both them and us safe. Here’s how they can take care of their employees:
- Focus and simplify to reduce workloads
Some retailers are experiencing peak demand around the clock, which makes it hard to maintain social distancing and to make time for safety procedures such as sanitising shelves. Now is the time to reduce workload by streamlining the product line and limiting shopping hours. Coronavirus-linked rationing is becoming more widespread as South African retailers continue to struggle with empty shelves, and with good reason.
Businesses should use social media platforms to communicate with customers, requesting that they shop quickly and send only one person per family to the store. It’s also critical that retailers explain to customers that they should not hoard or panic buy.
- Adopt clear safety standards
Given the virulence of Covid-19 and the difficulties of maintaining and enforcing safety precautions – especially in retail stores with hundreds of anxious shoppers – reducing the risk to zero is impossible.
That said, retailers need to create and communicate clear standards for sanitising their stores, distribution centres and trucks. They need to be definite about social distancing, handwashing and personal protection. Surveillance to identify a potential infection among employees is also critical.
- Empower and continuously improve
The Covid-19 lockdown calls for new everyday work processes and that should be rolled out immediately. For example, consider putting plexiglass in checkouts to keep employees safe. Interventions to keep customers and employees safe may cost extra money in the short term, but now is the time to prioritise customers and employees. The workforce must be empowered to make decisions as they see fit as many stores have different setups and local customer needs.
Employers need to show their people respect, says Sarah Kalloch, executive director of the Good Jobs Institute. “Respect is not a luxury when you’re asking people to risk themselves. It is time for all retailers to show respect by prioritising workers’ safety, offering decent pay and benefits, giving them the tools and resources they need to do a good job, and recognising them when they do.”
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2020/03/how-cant-close-retailers-are-keeping-workers-safe
Business Insider: https://www.businessinsider.co.za/cornonavirus-linked-panic-buying-retailers-ration-stock-2020-3
* All information was correct at the time of publication.