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Laundry Employee Training in a COVID-19 World (Part 1)

Four experts talk training in today’s business environment

CHICAGO — David Griggs, general manager of Superior Linen Service’s Healthcare Division in Muskogee, Oklahoma, says two common issues that most laundries face are employee turnover and employee accidents.

“While no program can completely stop either issue, you can go a long way toward solving these issues with a good continual employee training program,” he says.

“Unorganized facilities create employee frustration that usually leads to both turnover and accidents. They also generally produce a poor quality product that gets sent to their customers.”

Add in the COVID-19 pandemic, and training laundry employees can be challenging at best.

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Sylvia Williams

Sylvia

Williams

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Tommy Cocanougher

Tommy

Cocanougher

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Deana Griffin

Deana

Griffin

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David Griggs

David

Griggs

American Laundry News communicated about effective laundry employee training today with Griggs; Sylvia Williams, Human Resources Manager for Prudential Overall Supply headquartered in Irvine, California; Tommy Cocanougher, Director-Operations Engineering for Cintas Corp.; and Deana A. Griffin, president of The Griffin Group Inc. in Staunton, Virginia.

This time, the four talk about the effect of the pandemic on training.

How has COVID-19 changed training employees?

WILLIAMS: COVID-19 really put all HR professionals to the test. Not only did we need to make sure that we were in compliance with new and evolving state laws and local ordinances governing work requirements, but we needed to make our employees feel safe in a time where personal safety was a concern.

COCANOUGHER: Training new employees during this pandemic, with social distancing requirements, has impacted the close-up personal training with which the industry is familiar. Training at a distance definitely takes more time, as workstations have limited space and often must be cleaned between users.

Managers must adjust to allotting more time for initial onboarding to assure the training material and tasks are absorbed by the new employee. There is no substitute for the training, so more time must simply be allocated to assure the knowledge transfer is adequate.

GRIFFIN: The world’s response to COVID-19 has resulted in the most rapid transformation in the workplace—digitizing the relationships between firm and customer to digitizing the relationship between employer and employees with virtual meetings. There is limited space in training classes due to space requirements, which increases the number of in-person training classes.

GRIGGS: Employee training is such a vital part of a plant’s continual improvement. The use of online programs such as Zoom is a great way to train field employees or keep different locations connected.

Internal employees should have meetings within their work area in smaller meeting sizes. Having quick 10-minute meetings in their work area usually gets better attention and is safer than trying to get all the employees into a break room or conference room.

How important is cross-training on equipment these days?

WILLIAMS: Prior to the pandemic, we felt that we did an exceptional job at cross-training our staff; however, this pandemic showed us that we could definitely improve, and we have.

Just like in most cases, when an unexpected act of nature occurs, there are disruptions to the community and the businesses affected. We folks in HR like to refer to the way we deal with such events as “crisis management.” The pandemic has shown us that cross-training is needed more than ever to allow us the flexibility to make quick and necessary decisions when crises occur.

With COVID-19 we experienced increased absences and discovered that not only did we lose the folks that did an exceptional job in their role but we lost the tribal knowledge that only they possessed. Cross-training is crucial for a company to not only continue working without disruptions in the workplace but to continue delivering the same quality and service to their customers.

Cross-training is critical to the success of most organizations. As long as an employer is not overstepping on an employee’s physical work restrictions that they may have in place, or going against a clause in a union contract that does not allow an employee to be rotated, then you should do it.

We make sure to follow safety training requirements before someone is placed in a position that they have not worked in before. We want our employees to be able to develop their current skill sets, but, most importantly, we want to make sure we do it in a safe manner.

COCANOUGHER: Cross-training reached a new level of importance with the impact of COVID. During the peak of the pandemic, it was not unusual to have 20% of staff in quarantine. That leaves employees behind to fill positions with which they may have no knowledge. That isn’t the time to cross-train.

The development of a solid cross-training plan across your organization should be a part of the manager’s responsibility to sustain business needs. The plan should include frequent rotation into secondary positions so that skills learned are reinforced over time.

Specialized positions such as wash alley operations, maintenance and delivery present more complicated obstacles when cross-training. Hiring practices should include planning for back-ups to these critical roles.

GRIFFIN: Cross-training is a great strategy for employee growth and development. It maintains productivity, even when there’s a workforce shortage

Cross-training inspires more strategic staffing. While some employees are prone to do well in certain areas not related to their positions, you have the option to either coach them for a permanent switch or only use them for the roles when you need time to search for new talent.

It also reduces the cost of recruiting new talent and boosts employee morale through engagement.

GRIGGS: Cross-training of employees has been a buzzword in our company for several years. Since every job in the laundry uses different sets of muscles, moving employees around can greatly reduce the risk of repetitive motion injuries.

COVID-19 has highlighted the need for this practice since on any day an employee may be forced to quarantine and be off work for several weeks. This has made it imperative to have multiple employees trained on all jobs in the facility.

It is usually better to keep employees trained in a specific area rather than every job in the laundry. Training employees in areas such as dry-fold (washcloths, towels, gowns, etc.), ironers and the soil room is usually easier to do since each area requires a little different skill set.

An employee may do a great job of running a blanket folder but not have the hand skill to feed small pieces into a towel folder or ironer. They should be trained and rotate throughout these work areas. For example, they should work on both the feed side of machines as well as the catch side.

There are some employees who can perform every job in the building; however, there are usually jobs they do not perform well at and do not produce a good number.

If you are wanting to cross-train employees throughout the plant, I like to limit that to two hours a week. They should have the general idea of how other areas work so that they can work there in a pinch, but they are not going to be an expert at it. You can run the risk of cross-training so much that no one is good at anything.

The general concept of every job in the plant should be relatively similar. Some jobs, such as clean linen shippers or continuous tunnel operators, may have more specific skills or knowledge points, but all employees should understand the general concept of what the company is expecting. How items are packed out or put in shipping carts should be relatively close throughout the facility.

In your opinion, what is the most difficult challenge training laundry employees today?

WILLIAMS: Currently, the most difficult challenge we face in training laundry employees is retaining employees long enough to fully develop them. With government pandemic stimulus relief and increased unemployment benefits, we, like most employers, are finding it difficult to fill entry-level positions.

Every job is an important job and it takes great talent to make a company successful. In an effort to retain our newly acquired talent and to encourage them to grow and develop their careers with Prudential, we have bumped up our cross-training and career path discussions.

Employees want to hear that there are opportunities for advancement and that they don’t have to wait several years for it to occur. Cross-training occurs early on within the employee’s career cycle and refresher training is done ongoing throughout employment. Cross-training is one method that, along with others, can be used to successfully implement an employee development program.

COCANOUGHER: Allowing adequate time to train, and to check up on the progress while keeping your employees engaged and happy on the job, is perhaps the most challenging obstacle.

Managers and supervisors alike are running with short staffs, increasing customer demands, and obstacles in health and safety. Giving each employee that personal attention every day is getting more difficult but there is no substitute for working to keep your employees happy and safe.

GRIFFIN: Getting employees to embrace innovation and learn new technology and deciding what training programs to implement have been challenging.

GRIGGS: I believe the challenges we have today are the same as we have always faced concerning training plant employees.

Getting supervisor buy-in to taking employees away from their workstations is always tough. Production supervisors have the mindset of feed linen and get the loads out, it is easy to get blinders on to where they are only looking at production numbers.

A good training program will keep employees engaged and help the overall output of the facility.

Check back next Tuesday for the conclusion on effective training methods.