Your workers are one of, if not the, most important asset you have. What and how you communicate with your workers can have a significant impact on their behavior in relation to both food safety and employee wellness — particularly when in crisis. The food industry is accustomed to dealing with outbreaks and recalls, whether in real crises or mock simulations. In many ways, those same practices can be applied to the continuing challenges of COVID-19 — and vice versa.
A recent global health consensus statement (bit.ly/3gSV4er) on guidance for leaders during pandemic recovery described COVID-19 as “the greatest global test of health leadership of our generation.” Included in the statement was a framework of 10 imperatives which, while focused on public health crises, are just as applicable in the recovery from a food safety recall or other crisis. The following is an exploration of the 10 Imperatives, with my perspectives on their application to both food safety and employee wellness:
- Acknowledge staff and celebrate successes (No.1); provide support for staff well-being (No. 2). Whether commending staff for a successful recall and corrective action or maintaining pandemic precautions and wellness, acknowledging and celebrating their part in the recovery will go a long way in worker satisfaction. Additionally, ensuring your workers’ mental and emotional health, and their trust in the business, is necessary in dealing with the aftermath of any crisis.
- Develop a clear understanding of the current local and global context, along with informed projections (No. 3). What risk levels remain? Are local COVID cases still high; could global risk cause further resurgence? How widespread was the food recall; have all implicated products and sources been accounted for? What might happen next for which we should be prepared?
- Prepare for future emergencies (No. 4); reassess priorities explicitly and regularly and provide purpose, meaning and direction (No. 5); maximize team, organizational and system performance and discuss enhancements (No. 6). I would put preparing for future emergencies as No. 1 on this list for both food safety and public health, using all lessons learned to frame up the preparedness and applying Nos. 5 and 6 in your corrective actions. Reassessing priorities, maximizing performance and discussing (and implementing) enhancements (i.e., corrective action) are all standard aspects of recall management, as well as the more common public health crises (such as norovirus). Applying them to post-pandemic improvements will help to keep your employees and your business healthier.
- Manage the backlog of paused services and consider improvements while avoiding burnout and moral distress (No. 7). Any crisis in a business will either take focus from other services and practices (potentially causing backlog) or require more time and effort by managers and employees (potentially causing burnout) — or both. Managing employee wellness and balance will serve your company’s business continuity no matter the basis of the crisis.
- Sustain learning, innovations and collaborations, and imagine future possibilities (No. 8). Similar to Nos. 4 through 6, reviewing what was learned during the crisis; theorizing other crises that could arise from a similar situation; and developing practices and procedures for prevention of both high-risk and hypothetical possibilities will help to protect both your products and your workers, and thus, your business.
- Provide regular communication and engender trust (No. 9); provide safety information and recommendations to government, other organizations, staff and the community (No. 10). I mentioned trust as an aspect of the first group of imperatives, but purposely retained it as a separate item as well. Worker trust in your management practices, your care and concern for them and your commitment to food safety are critical — if you are not showing and communicating that you care about them and your products, they won’t care about you or the business either. Additionally, as I discussed in “Close the Trust Gap with ‘Competitive’ Food Safety” (bit.ly/3kNBJwx), rebuilding the trust of your consumers following any crisis is just as critical. And that trust is not just in your product, but in your industry segment, or even the food industry as a whole. So sharing lessons learned and best practices with the industry and promoting your food safety practices, your pandemic precautions and your crisis preparedness and management is simply good business.
I see each of the 10 imperatives of the global health statement as important post-crisis practices, but would add an 11th:
- Consider the diversity of your workforce, customers and consumers. Diversity comes in many forms from cultural to educational to generational and beyond. It is critical to know the nature of those with whom you are working and those to whom you are selling, and adapt your communication and practices accordingly. There will be areas that are absolutes, but the way they are conveyed and the diversity that is considered will be important in moving your business forward.
Effective leadership is an essential aspect of a successful business, but it can be extremely difficult when one is faced with the unknowns of an evolving recall crisis or “greatest global test of health leadership.” The more you apply best practices and lessons learned from your own experience and that of others, the better you will be able to come out the other side with your business and your workforce intact.
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