Building resilience from chasing a moving target

Dec. 21, 2020

Looking back to October, I am feeling somewhat vindicated by the performance of my hometown baseball team that was the subject of my previous two Periscope columns in January and July 2020. Retention and development of talent was the topic of those articles, and these remain critical areas of talent management consideration for Supply Chain leaders.

Nevertheless, in this environment with new terms like social distancing, work from home, quarantine and contagious to name a few, it is likely that we have ignored the growing problem of isolation to our staff. After all, isolation, by its very nature, makes it exceedingly difficult for team members to engage, and a less engaged team member ultimately translates to challenges to retention and development efforts. While the verdict is still out on the long-term effects of such isolation, here are just three recent mental health studies that provide insight worth noting:

• A survey conducted by the Cleveland Clinic found that 77 percent of respondents said their stress levels increased during the pandemic, about 45 percent said their emotional and mental health declined during this difficult period, and most troubling was that 59 percent said the pandemic had a greater negative impact on their mental health than the 2008 economic recession.

• The Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll identified similarly disappointing results, including 53 percent reporting that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the pandemic, which represented a nearly 21 percent increase since March 2020 when the question was first asked. Once more, many respondents also reported specific negative impacts on their mental health and well-being, such as difficulty sleeping (36 percent) or eating (32 percent), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12 percent) and worsening chronic conditions (12 percent).

• And if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was not busy enough, they managed a survey that showed 40.9 percent of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety/depressive disorder (30.9 percent), symptoms of a trauma- and stress-related disorder (26.3 percent), and having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3 percent). Most disturbing was the result that more than 10 percent of respondents had seriously considered suicide, including a rate of 25.5 percent among 18-to-24-year-olds and 21.7 percent among essential workers.

We can only pray that the arrival of several promising vaccine alternatives over the next several months coupled with sheer human resiliency will stem the tide of any lasting effects of this mental health crisis. That said, if there is anything that we have learned from this pandemic, it is that we have still much to learn as we chase a moving target.

Three tactics for engagement

Here are three tactics that we have deployed in my organization that we believe are working to keep team members engaged. These are relatively easy to deploy but do require a commitment of time and disciplined effort on the part of leaders.

1. Actively round with staff.

Every leader in my organization is expected to meet one-on-one with each staff member each month over video conference. While meeting over a video conference is not the ideal, all of us have become more adept to this technology, coming very close to the effectiveness of an in-person meeting. Our standard for these sessions is simple: Come prepared with questions and feedback, dress professionally, use both video and voice, and be present by turning off distractions, including people, animals and cell phones. Leaders should come to these meetings with three to five standard questions, documenting staff responses and feedback, and then allow for an equal amount of time for less formal discussions. Most importantly, we strive to listen rather than talk with the goal of giving staff at least 20 minutes of a 30-minute video conference. The collective responses to these rounding sessions are shared with leaders and our Staff Council to, in turn, identify and develop ways to make our department a workplace of choice.

2. Assure a stable work environment.

The first months of the spring pandemic were a struggle in terms of workload. Unfortunately, what many organizations had to offer was instability in the form of furloughs and layoffs come the summer. Not at my organization. Anticipating an eventual return to normal but with a long road to recovery, we quickly identified and implemented approaches to reducing our cost structure without adversely affecting job security. Most importantly, we actively communicated these efforts and their results. As a result, team members’ trust in leadership grew knowing that leaders were making the decisions necessary to retain jobs.

3. Retain your normal work day.

Here is where individual tactics vary. The recommendation is to evaluate your regular activities to determine their efficacy towards promoting engagement while meeting appropriate safety requirements. For us, this meant a commitment to several long-standing traditions, including the continuation of our aforementioned Staff Council, a non-managerial board of staff charged to make recommendations that make our department a workplace of choice. Keeping this group active meant that senior leaders could be assured of keeping an honest pulse on staff issues. Additionally, all work groups of eight or fewer were required to meet monthly and in-person using appropriate social distancing and other CDC guidelines. Larger work groups, including department-wide and leader-only meetings, would simply have remaining personnel join these team meetings via video conference. Finally, our biggest success in this area was maintaining the awarding of a bi-weekly employee recognition trophy.

Certainly, many of us will develop and deploy different tactics to improve supply chain resiliency, but we leaders also must anticipate a worst case scenario when it comes to the prolonged isolation of our team members during this pandemic. Failing to recognize the causation of isolation to staff engagement, and ultimately our ability to retain and develop these staff, will only serve to hinder resiliency. And what better way to improve your supply chain resiliency than by investing more in your people!

About the Author

Ed Hardin | Vice President & Chief Supply Chain Officer

Ed Hardin, FACHE, CMRP, serves as Vice President & Chief Supply Chain Officer for Froedtert Health, a Milwaukee-based integrated delivery system.  Hardin is an educator and mentor, passionate about creating work environments that cause people “to wake up every day loving what they do and loving who they’re doing it with.” He previously served as Vice President, Supply Chain Management, for Irving, TX-based CHRISTUS Health, named the 2016 Supply Chain Department of the Year by Healthcare Purchasing News. In October 2020 Hardin was inducted into Bellwether League Foundation’s Hall of Fame for Healthcare Supply Chain Leadership. He can be reached via email at  [email protected].

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