Empowering the Manufacturing Industry During COVID-19
July 17, 2020
By Jeff Gorter MSW, LCSW
VP of Clinical Crisis Response
Manufacturing, as a distinct industry sector in the U.S., has felt the impact of recent challenges in powerful ways, as has the nation as a whole. With 11.5 million employees and a $2.38 trillion annual contribution to the economy, the rebound and recovery of manufacturing plays a crucial role in the overall resilience of all Americans. As Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), stated recently, “We are facing an extraordinary challenge, and America’s manufacturers are helping to lead the charge. Across the country, manufacturing heroes are supporting our infrastructure, strengthening our health care systems and creating the innovations that will save lives. As we have throughout history, in this time of crisis, manufacturers are answering the call.” An inspiring and timely call, to be sure.
Inspiration, however, requires execution. How can an organizational leader practically support the emotional needs of their workforce, empowering their people to return to focused productivity and peak performance? Successful manufacturing leaders have found the following concepts to be keys to addressing the understandable anxiety and anger that distracts employees and drains their energy:
- Acknowledge the power of this moment. We have not faced a health crisis of this size and scope in over 100 years, and the experience of racial inequity has been a wound in our collective psyche since before we were founded as a nation. Given the dual nature of these two crisis points, recognize that your employees will have different reactions, at different times, for different reasons. By simply acknowledging the reality of their lived experience – whether their concern is driven by COVID-19 or racial injustice (or both) – you validate their feelings and open the door to the next step.
- Communicate with care, compassion, and courage. By “communicate”, I primarily mean the often-forgotten element of listening! By seeking first to understand, effective leaders gain valuable insight into what is most important to their workers, as well as a creating a safe space for mutual dialogue aimed at generating solutions, the ultimate goal of all involved.
- Transition to a future-focus. It is the unique role of leadership to “cast a vision” of where we are now, where we are going, and how we are all going to get there. While no one knows exactly how long the pandemic will last, frequent updates on current conditions and the implications for organizational and individual functioning are essential in reassuring the workforce. This affirms confidence that leadership “has a plan” and that it includes their well-being.
While each manufacturer faces their own unique needs based on local conditions, product focus, etc., these strategies can provide a springboard for adaptation as leaders map out their own plan of action. Again, as Jay Timmons states, “This is not a time to sit back and wait for action from others. We must bring our people together in common purpose, to strengthen the values that bind us together, to rebuild our communities, to reinstill faith in ourselves and to ensure that all of our citizens have a right to live safely and securely.”
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