Prioritizing workers' well-being a sound business strategy in Covid-19 times

By Van Pham   May 11, 2020 | 06:20 pm PT
Beverage maker Tan Hiep Phat decided employment and employee protection would be prioritized over business strategy and it’s worked, says Deputy CEO Tran Uyen Phuong.

During the nationwide social distancing campaign that lasted three weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, Phuong was constantly seized of one question: "How to keep thousands of Tan Hiep Phat employees safe through pandemic."

She understood that just one infected case could crash the system.

"At that time, the most important thing to me was our employees’ and their families’ health. Also, ensuring product safety for consumers' health was more important than making money. An infected person will not only seriously affect the company but also panic the consumers," Phuong, also the group's board member, said.

Tran Uyen Phuong, Deputy CEO and board member of Tan Hiep Phat Group.

Tran Uyen Phuong, Deputy CEO and board member of Tan Hiep Phat Group.

Keeping employees calm amidst the pandemic was also a top priority measure because a lack of clear information would disturb and scare them. Some employees even applied for long-term leave of absence, some others were in state of panic, seeing illness everywhere. This fear could lead to discrimination against and alienation of people with symptoms like fever or mild cough.

Instead of adjusting its business plans, Tan Hiep Phat Group set up a quick response committee first, consisting of division heads and the board. The team meets regularly to discuss how to respond to the epidemic, focusing on activities that ensure the health of thousands of employees and their families.

Phuong said that one sight she has gained is that the greater a crisis that a company faces, the more it has to control internal communications, to prevent rumors from spreading among employees and departments. Thus it was decided that all information has to be verified by the quick response committee and corrected if false.

"The scariest thing for an organization is suspicion and speculation about other people. Transparency and quick updating of information is how we maintain our credibility. After about two weeks, we were surprised that the staff had become familiar with the 'new normal.’ They were more comfortable and more effective in internal interaction than before," she said.

The company also invited doctors to answer questions of employees, enhancing protective measures such as checking body temperature, provision of masks and antibacterial hand sanitizers in every corner of the factory so that the staff had easy, constant access to them. Mealtime was divided into alternating shifts so that not too many staff gathered at the cafeteria at the same time.

Tan Hiep Phat has implemented a series of measures to protect workers health.

Tan Hiep Phat Group has implemented a series of measures, prioritizing workers' health over business results at a time of crisis.

Be calm, be careful

With more than 2,500 employees, Saigon Food also placed disease control at the forefront of its response while maintaining operations, especially given the dramatic increase in the consumption of processed food that exerted greater pressure on production. All workers returned to work normally after theTet (Lunar New Year) holiday ended. The enterprise has accordingly implemented many measures including the display of posters with key information, checking body temperature, frequent washing of hands and asking people not to share eating and drinking utensils.

"Though dangerous, Covid-19 is not a great threat if we know how to prevent it. I always remind everyone to be calm and follow instructions to ensure good health," said Le Thi Thanh Lam, Deputy General Director of Saigon Food.

Maintain motivation

Another "variable" that has posed a headache to many business leaders is paying salaries as revenues fall. The decision on whether or not to cut salaries or how much to cut would depend on a firm’s financial health and business philosophy.

Le Hoang Uyen Vy, Executive Director of ESP Investment Fund, said that labor comprises one of the highest costs for an enterprise, but enterprises are usually cautious in moves to cut them.

"We need to think for the whole team. After all, the success of an enterprise depends on the efforts of the staff who accompany us through good times and bad. Instead of downsizing, we can consider flexible payment and give priority to cutting other expenses," said an ESP representative who did not want to be named.

[Zero Degree Green Tea with Lemon, one of the most best-selling products of Tan Hiep Phat during Covid-19 pandemic.

Zero Degree Green Tea with Lemon, one of the most best-selling products of Tan Hiep Phat during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Other large corporations have also acted to minimize the impact on employees. Truong Gia Binh, Chairman of FPT, a group with 36,000 employees, gave out the message that "no one loses their job to a disease."

"This was different from the staff reduction policies applied at the time of the 2008 crisis, which was a financial crisis. The Covid-19 pandemic is a health crisis. It cannot ‘steal’ jobs from anyone of the 36,000 employees at FPT. That is my determination and my pledge," he said.

Tan Hiep Phat Group has its cost cutting on marketing via less effective channels including certain kinds of campaigns and events, increasing automation and risk provisions, aiming not to intervene in the employee's salary fund.

"Thousands of employees are close to us like a family. We have adopted the principle of optimizing costs while ensuring jobs for the entire team. Machines can increase production, but people are the dynamic force that helps us return to the momentum of growth after the epidemic," Phuong said.

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