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Ask Julie: Will COVID-Era Policies Stick?

Written by: Sarah Novak   |   May 13, 2022

Labor, Coronavirus

Labor is top of mind for many of our members and the industry, so we asked three animal food industry experts – all named Julie – for their input on the topic. Julie Zimny is the global human resources leader with Cargill Animal Nutrition; Julie Sexton is the senior vice president and chief human resource officer with Land O’Lakes, Inc. and Julie Coble is the human resources manager with Kent Nutrition. Here is final post of the three-part series.

What lessons have we learned from managing a workforce during COVID-19? Are there HR-type policies/procedures we expect to “stick” in future?

Coble: We have learned to be flexible, whether that means onboarding virtually or being flexible on the attendance policy.

We recognize that health not only means your physical health, but your mental health and you can’t be effective at work if you don’t have either.

Regardless of the pandemic, we have a better comprehension of what our workforce wants. We have taken the gaps that we have identified in pay, our Employee Assistance Program and flexibility of work and are better organization for the benefit of our employees.  

We also have gained an appreciation of what applicants desire and have developed new tools to attract them, no idea is off limits. “Trystorming” is necessary to ensure we have left no applicants undiscovered. 

Lastly, we will continue to follow COVID-19 protocols for some time in the future for quarantines, work from home, return to work, etc. These will continue to evolve as we learn more about the virus and will probably never fully go away. 

Sexton: Two key lessons: how we demonstrate true care and concern for our employees and flexibility matters for everyone.

Putting employee and family safety first, not just in what we say, but in what we do, our actions and programs, really enriched the culture and engagement with employees. That has shifted how we lead, how we engage employees, as holistic people.

The second lesson is that COVID-19 prompted a critical look at how we do our jobs, what we do and learning it can be done differently with an increase in effectiveness and productivity. That filter in assessing how we do our best work and empowering our workforce will be a stickiness that remains and drives increased flexibility expectations. 

Zimny: COVID-19 has impacted everyone and will shape the global business landscape for the foreseeable future.

But our global food system has been incredibly resilient thanks to the people who show up to work every day with courage and commitment.

Many of our team members never stopped going into work - as they fulfilled the essential role of producing food for families, pets and livestock around the world. Whether it was these front-line workers in our facilities or team members working from home, our first priority was always safety, while we kept food production going.

The best practices in the early days of COVID-19 remain in place today and we continue to add protocols as innovations emerge that can keep our employees safe wherever they work on Cargill’s behalf.

We’ve focused on the overall health and well-being of our employees around the world through psychological safety efforts such as, “How are you doing, really?” campaigns. We’ve learned to focus on outcomes that people can drive through this virtual environment rather than measuring face time.

Our decisions about when to return to the office have all been driven by our “people first” culture and safety mindset. Employees know they have the flexibility they need to make the best decision for them.

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