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The Benefits of Listening to Your Employees

ROANOKE, Va. — My dad always told me that a mind was a terrible thing to waste, and I have always tried to keep his counsel as I work with my staff to improve our procedures and solve production problems. A manager must involve his staff in the process or he is wasting one of his best resources.

I like to take the time to eat lunch with my staff. By listening carefully to them while chatting over a sandwich and a Diet Coke, I can determine what problems they are seeing in the laundry and where we need to improve. It is tempting to say that “Lisa” always complains and doesn’t want to do the job the way it was designed, but I know that if I can get beyond that personal prejudice, I might find a few great ideas.

My staff complained that the incontinent pads had too many holes in the backing; workers were seeing them in older pads and new pads. They weren’t sure how to correct the problem. My supervisors confirmed their observations, and the race was on to determine the cause.

Brainstorming led us to consider a poor-quality product or a problem with one of the following: textile manufacturing, the tunnel washer (sharp edge?), press, shuttle, dryer, conveyor, folder, or chemistry. With so many possible causes, we knew we would have to be methodical in our attempts to find the problem.

We started by running new pads through one of the tunnels, its press, and the dryers. After the pads were dried, we could see they had been damaged but we could not tell where in the process the damage had occurred. We could not find any obvious problem upon inspecting the dryers, nor could we find anything wrong with the shuttle.

Next, we ran a load through the tunnel and press but inspected them before allowing them to go to the dryers. The test load contained damaged pads. We now knew it was the tunnel washer, the press, the chemicals or the pads themselves. We washed a load of new pads in one of our 275-pound open-pocket washers. They were inspected before drying, and again after being dried, and they showed no signs of damage at either point.

Next, we ran a load of new pads through the tunnel and inspected them before they were extracted. There was damage to the pads. It became obvious to the team working on the problem that this tunnel washer was the source of the problem. Since we operate two tunnels, we moved the processing of incontinent pads from tunnel No. 1 to tunnel No. 2. Immediately there was a decrease in the number of pads that needed to be patched. It took us a while to get all the pads properly patched, but the problem now seems to be corrected.

We then turned our attention to an oil-based stain that was frequently showing up on an expensive universal drape. The orthopedic doctors really like using this particular type of drape, but the stain was severely limiting the uses we were getting per sheet. This time, we got our chemical representative and his company chemists involved.

We tried a number of different rewash formulas and simply couldn’t find a way to remove the stain. After much trial and error, the chemists came up with a new blended product that seems to do the job. We get the best stain removal by pre-treating each oily spot with the chemical and letting it sit several hours before washing it on a special rewash program that also contains additional amounts of the new product. We have been able to reclaim about 99% of what previously had been considered unusable.

A side benefit is we also use the new stain-removing product in our incontinent-pad formula, and it does an excellent job of removing tape and other stickers placed on the pads. It took us more than six months to find the solution, but it was well worth the effort.

Our next goal is to find a way to increase production through two 275-pound open-pocket washers, as growth of the reusable isolation gown program has put a strain on our existing washroom capacity.

The projects I’ve described were developed because I listened to employees during lunch or a break. If you are willing to listen without judging, your employees can become your best source of information. They want to be able to take pride in their work, and they want the company to be successful. They understand that we all succeed or die together. Take time to listen to them.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].