Technology

Q&A: How Retailers Can Help Employees Enforce Mask Policies

WorkJam's Will Eadie says communication is key
Photograph: Shutterstock

As though the coronavirus wasnt enough of a health and safety threat, grocers are now dealing with unpleasant aftereffects of measures to defend against, with face coverings becoming a hot topic with some badly behaving shoppers as well as a human resources issue for employers. 

In a recent interview with WGB, Will Eadie, chief revenue officer of the digital workplace platform WorkJam, shares how retailers can set their employees up for success as they implement and enforce mask policies brought on by the coronavirus while making them feel safe. WorkJam, with U.S. offices in Cincinnati, is a digital workplace designed to help grocers execute day-to-day processes through scheduling, communication and experiential learning.

will eadie

Will Eadie

Kristina Peters: As videos continue to flood the internet of people lashing out at employees over wearing a mask—whether local-, state- or retail-mandated—how can retailers, specifically grocers, best prepare and train their employees if confronted with such a situation?

Will Eadie: This comes back to something I think we’ve learned in grocery, especially over the past three months, which is at the end of the day, if a brand or an organization doesn’t have a global way to communicate clearly to all of their locations, to all of their front-line team members, to all of their associates in a clear, unified fashion, then you have a lot of problems. Being able to communicate top down and bottoms up becomes the first way to do this.

You have to have the structure. Like if you don’t have the plumbing, then you can’t do the next few pieces. It’s the most important way to think about it. So what we’ve seen is that when the front-line employees understand what it is they’re supposed to be enforcing or doing, it’s easier for them to do so. …

The headline, I think we see right now is you’re not onboarding employees, you’re reboarding them. You’re basically taking the employee that has maybe worked there a year or two years and has all of your corporate training. They know how to do everything in the store. … What they now have to be retrained for—outside of your normal hiring process and your onboarding process—is a whole new set of processes that you have to go through.

The [grocers] we’ve seen be successful communicate it, explain it, and then show [the employees] how to do it. And show them how to do it through micro learnings, follow-ons and actually a certification process. That’s the best way to do that. … We’ve seen a lot of training where ... maybe they hear a story that, “Hey, at Store 107, we had a team member who was able to quickly deescalate [a situation] by explaining these three things. And this was the talk track they used.” Then they have that employee record a video of what the talk track was, and they share with all the rest of the locations.

Specifically, what can WorkJam do to help retailers with reboarding, micro training, etc.?

What we provide is a digital workplace platform that is all in one space, where a team member can come and they can get a communication that they can read from their department manager, their district manager, their regional manager, all the way up to the CEO, the CHRO [chief human resources officer]. They can watch videos talking about the new policies, and then layer that in with engaged micro learnings.

One of the things a lot of our customers use is a process where, one, they do a health check every single day before they punch in, answering the very traditional health check questions. They then earn a badge based on their answers that allows them to punch in. And then maybe they get, “Hey, this is this morning’s training.” It’s a four-minute training exercise, where they have to answer some questions and, based on their answers, earn different levels of certification, which might actually let them do different jobs in the store. So it actually gamifies that experience—keeps it really fun, but it keeps them informed on a daily basis. …

One of the key reasons we see this getting implemented is you have to keep your team safe and your employees safe. … Customer safety comes in two forms. One is being able to deescalate that communication with the person that doesn't want to wear a mask at a store. But the other is being able to show a process that your team is cleaning properly, is asking people to wear masks and is keeping the rest of the public safe. We've seen that the companies that are doing this well, they're getting an increase in sales. The ones that have shown that they can successfully reopen safely are the ones that are weathering this trying times very well.

An article recently surfaced about the CEO of Kings Food Markets, a chain of 25 grocery stores across New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, offering up her cellphone number via a card an employee can hand out to any customer not wearing a mask if they have questions or concerns. What do you make of this approach?

One of the keys to communication is executives being willing to get into the line of communication. Executives showing their employees that they’re willing to be a part of the escalation process shows great engagement and likely shows leadership that makes those employees feel comfortable. …

At the end of the day, when we see really engaged workforces—which, by the way, leads to really productive workforces—it’s always the leadership team that’s willing to take part in the conversation. I would argue that that same CEO is probably very, very visible and vocal in her stores—that they’re out on the front lines.

Even with all the proper training, some employees might still be apprehensive confronting a customer whos not wearing a mask. What advice would you give to those workers?

Every employer out there is not going to want to put an employee that is untrained and uncomfortable in that situation. What we’ve seen work well is a communicative process and a training for escalating to the right authority that … “This customer has now reached a level where I can’t respond to them anymore. I need to get my manager involved.” Or an employee can say, “You’ve asked me to work the front door. I don’t feel comfortable doing that.” So what is their process for communicating their concerns? Again, they need to have a platform to communicate those concerns, because if I work in produce, I might not ever get to see the general manager of the store who's making that policy because I work a different shift than she does.

How can grocers design a communication strategy that lets the shoppers know that they will be asked to wear a mask?

I still believe it all comes down to execution and getting it done. The best thing is when people see it, they believe it. When I walk into my local grocery store and there's a sign that's been hung properly, that again comes down to what can employers do. You need to be able to even tell your team where and how to display your program. You have to train them on the program and then use something like task management. … By using WorkJam’s task management, you can actually verify that the mask sign was hung by the front entrance and it’s properly hung, it says the right thing and it’s the right version of the sign. So right there alone, you’re communicating with your employees by getting them to put it down and understanding the process, but you're putting it in a place that your customers now see it and understand it. 

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