Lockdown: Engaging downtime employees is equally important

Manufacturing is one sector, where remote working is not possible. Here is how manufacturing companies, such as CEAT, SAR and Aditya Birla are optimising the downtime of employees.

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In many sectors, companies are finding innovative ways to engage with the team to maintain the productivity levels, while they telecommute. However, not everyone is working from home. Rather, not every employee in every organisation is working.

Remote working is not possible in every function, sector, or company. In such cases, the challenge lies in optimising the downtime of these employees.

Learning & Development

Learning is what most companies are looking at to keep the workforce engaged during the downtime.

Ashish Anand, CHRO, SAR Group, says, “At SAR, we have created groups for people in activity-oriented jobs— such as service engineers and sales officers— who have no real job at the moment. For each role, a separate group has been formed. We are now focussing on providing these employees with content to learn and self-develop.”

Ravi Mishra

In this scenario, people are worried about losing their jobs. We are constantly in touch with our workers, trying to clarify any doubts they may have

“The field force usually does not get much time to upgrade themselves due to the nature of their job. This is a great opportunity to do that,” opines Milind Apte, CHRO, CEAT.

CEAT has been using different formats, such as TED Talks and webinars with industry experts. It has also been sending them books and summaries of relevant reading material and talks by leadership team members. Employees are given lessons on how to get in touch with their roots, such as basic selling skills, advanced selling skills, building negotiation skills and learning about the future of selling.

For the plant workers, learning is more through continuous improvement projects, with their managers themselves handpicking the projects and assigning them to the workers. Training is also being provided in quality management.

Motivation

Learning is a priority at Aditya Birla as well. “Those who are sitting at home without work are more vulnerable to emotional distress and anxiety. Therefore, it’s important to engage them in a positive way,” shares Ravi Mishra, SVP-HR, Grasim Industries, Epoxy Business, Aditya Birla Group. His organisation is taking care to engage its employees in learning and trying to alleviate their fears to ensure they stay positive.

“In this scenario, people are worried about losing their jobs. We are constantly in touch with our workers, trying to clarify any doubts they may have,” adds Mishra.

Mishra himself makes it a point to regularly connect with employees who reside in Germany and Italy, to keep their morale high. A helpline number has been provided to all employees and their families to connect with a doctor as and when needed.

Fitness is also being used to keep the downtime employees motivated. CEAT, for instance, has hired fitness trainers who have already begun conducting fitness training for the workforce. Sessions are streamed live to all employees from 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. every day. The chief fitness officer at CEAT, Deepali Athawale, has been in touch with the employees and their families through podcasts and live calls. Athawale has been advising them about the dos and don’ts to keep safe, and providing them tips on nutrition, dealing with anxiety and being positive. Fitness is common for employees across the organisation.

Milind Apte

The field force usually does not get much time to upgrade themselves due to the nature of their job. This is a great opportunity to do that

Extended workforce

Just like there are employees who do not have much work to do during the downtime, there are also extended workforces in manufacturing that have been forced to go on leave without pay.

CEAT has been taking care of its indirect field force as well. These are workers who are not on the direct payroll of the company, but are employed by the distributors, to help in distribution of goods. These workers have also been rendered jobless and payless right now. The organisation has supplied its supply depots with masks and necessary protective gear for these workers to pick up anytime they wish.

Workers and truck drivers, who are stuck near the plants are being provided with food and accommodation by the Company.

“At SAR, we have created groups for people in activity-oriented jobs— such as service engineers and sales officers— who have no real job at the moment. For each role, a separate group has been formed. We are now focussing on providing these employees with content to learn and self-develop”

Some business continuity

CEAT Tyres has found ways to keep the salesforce engaged too, even during the downtime.

Given that the sales and marketing professionals thrive on good relationships with clients, CEAT’s sales employees have been assigned the work of continuing to build strong relationships with dealers, distributors and all critical stakeholders in the market during this downtime. Since they cannot travel for their jobs, they have been making calls to try and facilitate business.

However, they are not under any pressure at the moment. “What we have told them is that if you get natural business through calls, then it is great. Even if you do not, it is okay,” explains Apte.

Mishra mentions that the sales professionals in his organisation are engaging with the customers to ensure that all business-related concerns that they may have, are addressed immediately.

For every organisation, engagement and ensuring productivity are the primary concerns at the moment. It can be tough to engage employees, who are staying at home without work. An idle mind takes a toll on the mental and physical health of a person, especially with the added uncertainty and stress that the lockdown has imposed upon all. In such a critical time, it is vital that employees are kept engaged using the best possible means, to upgrade their skills and to remain preoccupied. Taking care of downtime employees is in the best interest of not just the workers, but the employers as well.