How Best Workplaces in Retail™ are supporting employees during COVID-19.
When we think of essential workers, we typically think of emergency responders. But one of the things the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us is that many roles we previously took for granted, such as retail workers, are very much essential.
While the medical community has been battling the virus in hospitals and long-term care homes, another group of workers has faced a different challenge: ensuring that we have access to everything we need, from toilet paper to baby formula, while remaining healthy themselves.
For employers on the Best Workplaces in Retail™ list, responding to the pandemic has meant not only ensuring the safety of their customers, but also ensuring that their employees —unexpectedly thrown onto the front lines — are well-supported.
Here’s what some of these workplaces are doing to support their employees and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They prioritize health and safety for everyone
For bricks and mortar stores that rely on face-to-face interaction between customers and sales staff, keeping everyone safe immediately became priority number one.
At companies like Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. and Publix Super Markets Inc., that meant implementing physical barriers to separate employees and customers, ensuring sanitization of frequently touched surfaces, and requiring face coverings for both customers and staff.
Target Corporation also provided its staff with protective equipment, such as facemasks and gloves, as well as thermometers for any employee who needed one. Target employees can also receive free access to health care via virtual doctor visits.
However, even with these precautions, vulnerable retail staff are still at high risk. Some employers have introduced creative and generous solutions.
For example, Wegmans has implemented a job-protected voluntary leave program for employees who don’t feel comfortable working in-store.
Similarly, Target offers team members aged 65 and older, or who are pregnant, the option of fully paid leave for up to 30 days.
Nearly every business has had to adopt a flexible approach to how they work. Where possible, employers have shifted to work-from-home models or rescheduled their shifts to allow physical distancing.
What’s more, for many employees with children in virtual school, or with sick or elderly family to care for, working their regular shifts became nearly impossible.
CarMax, a used car seller that cites integrity, honesty and transparency as its purpose, is one business that quickly moved to address this challenge.
The company offers flexible work options to accommodate employees with caregiving responsibilities. Staff can choose to work alternate hours, move to part-time status, take a leave of absence, swap their schedule, or have a compressed work week.
They provide financial aid
As compensation for the increased health risks that retail employees are exposed to, many employers have increased pay — either temporarily or permanently — through the form of raises and bonuses.
Custom Ink, which sells custom-printed t-shirts and gear, has increased its pay for staff who work on-site, and offered interest-free advances of up to $1,000 to employees who are struggling financially.
Publix has introduced permanent pay increases for employees, as well as up to 80 hours of emergency pandemic pay for staff who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or who must self-quarantine.
However, it’s worth noting that financial support can come in other forms.
In addition to providing an extra $1 per hour, Brookshire Grocery Company provides its staff with gift cards, extra discounts, meals, and waived co-pays for MDLive telemedicine services.
Brookshire also established a special compensation fund to help employees affected by COVID-19 to replace lost wages and to receive short-term disability and paid time-off benefits.
At Burlington Stores, Inc., financial support for employees comes not just from their employer, but from their colleagues. The company’s Associate Assistance Fund provides financial aid to staff suffering from personal hardship—it’s funded by employee donations, with 100% going to associates in need.
Their senior management steps up
For employees struggling with the financial and emotional strain of COVID-19, it’s important to see support from every level of management, all the way to the top.
This could be in the form of regular communication, such as emails or video updates from senior management, or on an intranet platform that keeps employees informed about company news.
For Wegmans staff, that communication comes through the company’s ‘Ask Bob’ platform—a direct line to senior vice president, Bob Farr.
Meanwhile, for some executives, the best way to communicate their support is to put their money where their mouth is, literally.
At Burlington, CEO Michael O’Sullivan has opted not to take a salary during the pandemic, and the company’s board of directors is forfeiting its cash compensation. As well, the company’s executive team voluntarily agreed to decrease their salaries by 50%.
Senior executives at Custom Ink also opted for reduced salaries, with many long-time leaders taking the minimum legal salary.
They support the community
Lastly, Best employers know that supporting the local community is just as important as supporting their staff.
Sheetz, Inc., a restaurant and convenience chain across the mid-Atlantic, ran a meal program for children who were missing their school meals during the shutdown. Between April and June 2020, the company served nearly 60,000 free meals to children in need.
Sheetz also offered free coffee to first responders and health care workers at the start of the pandemic, and has made donations to local food banks in the communities Sheetz serves.
Publix responded to reports of struggling farmers having to discard produce and milk that wasn’t being sold as a result of school, restaurant, and hotel closures. The company launched an initiative to purchase these products from the farmers, and then donate them directly to Feeding America food banks.
Burlington showed its community involvement by partnering with the national non-profit Delivering Good to donate merchandise to people impacted by the pandemic. Products included scrubs, protective footwear, kitchen products, baby gear, and more.
The pandemic saw a massive surge in bike sales, as people began spending more time outdoors and avoiding public transit. For Trek Bicycle Corporation, this meant a much higher customer volume. At busy times, the limited capacity in-store created long lines.
To keep waiting customers happy, Trek staff handed out free drinks, popsicles, and ice cream.
Sometimes, even a small act of neighborhood kindness is all you need!
A little support goes a long way
Support, whether it’s in the form of financial aid, flexible work schedules or enhanced health services, can make a world of difference for struggling employees. As the COVID-19 pandemic carries on, we’ll keep looking to the Best Workplaces to lead the way.
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