Supply Chains and a Second Round of Lockdowns

December 2, 2020

As COVID-19 case counts rise in the United States, many local governments are reconsidering economic lockdowns to slow the spread of the disease. Qlicket discussed the implications of these lockdowns on supply chains with three academics. 

Dr. Senthil Veeraraghavan is an Operations, Information, and Decisions professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where he researches issues pertaining to global supply chains. 

Dr. Jirs Meuris is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Management and Human Resources Department. He has researched human resources management and behavioral science as they apply to workers in the transportation industry.

Dr. David Lassman is a distinguished service professor within Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy. He teaches courses in organizational behavior and led an organizational operations consulting practice from 2003 to 2007. Lassman is also an adviser for Qlicket.

How will a second round of lockdowns affect employee sentiment and hiring in the supply chain industry? Will these trends be uniform across the United States?

Jirs Meuris: Given public opinion, I doubt there will be a lockdown of the same magnitude in the United States as in March through June. Right now, online service companies—most notably Amazon, but also others like Instacart—are in dire need of people. 

Particularly as the holidays approach, we should expect the demand for labor from these companies to increase. It’s not just the volume of business that is creating the demand for new hires, but also the pandemic itself. People get sick and must quarantine, so these companies need to have more people on hand than usual because there is a higher likelihood that a proportion is not able to work at any given point in time. 

Without the additional manpower, an outbreak in the community where a distribution center is located can grind the supply chain to a halt. So the question the supply chain industry is constantly struggling with is how they can keep minimal operations running amidst local outbreaks.

Senthil Veeraraghavan: My guess is that service employees’ morale has been low, especially given the rising case numbers. I think the services are just returning back in stores and restaurants, so a second round of lockdowns will hurt employment and also negatively affect incomes for service workers, as a stimulus bill still seems stalled.

The effects will be different across the United Statesalready we are seeing the depletion of brick and mortar employment in some cities like New York, movement out of cities like San Francisco and New York, and an increase in gig work in delivery services such as Doordash.

What are some strategies that firms can adopt to boost morale among their supply chain employees in response to COVID-19?

Jirs Meuris: Firms have to realize that this is a difficult time for the company, but also for workers given the uncertainty as well as the danger of being in a confined workspace with other people. I believe the most important steps that firms can take is to put workers first. 

Workers need to be able to trust that the company has their welfare in mind when making decisions. Companies can develop this trust by providing clear, consistent, and constant communication of what is going on, followed directly by actions that are consistent with those words. Those actions should include sufficient remuneration for their efforts during this time, adequate safety precautions to protect their health, and some level of flexibility within the constraints of firm operations. 

Without a worker-centric approach to continuing operations throughout the pandemic, not only will morale suffer, but the reputation of the firm is likely to suffer well beyond the pandemic, which will make it more difficult to attract quality people when the labor market improves.  

David Lassman: Due to COVID, employees are concerned for their health and safety while at work and they are worried about infecting people at home. Simply being in close proximity to a colleague can lead to serious illness for an employee and their loved ones. Consequently, employees need their employers to listen to their concerns, to understand their issues, and most importantly, to help generate and implement solutions to ensure everyone’s safety.

Ideally, employees will have honest, candid, face-to-face conversations with their supervisors.  But not everyone does thisboth subordinates and supervisors are not always comfortable sharing concerns and ideas. 

Qlicket is a powerful tool for identifying issues and starting dialogues. Organizations can get feedback from employees and generate ideas on how to address this feedback. Additionally, COVID generates a lot of fear and misinformation. Qlicket kiosks can be used to share information and facts, so that employees are better informed.

Learn more about Qlicket’s solution.

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