When Iowa went into lockdown in March, food pickup and delivery became the new norm at grocery stores and restaurants. And grocery store employees became recognized as essential workers.
At area Hy-Vee grocery stores, online orders through the Aisles Online program skyrocketed, requiring the chain to quickly increase its number of personal shoppers and curbside pickup employees. A number of temporary hourly employees were hired early in the pandemic to help restock shelves and serve customers, and many of those employees now have permanent positions.
Hy-Vee also increased its customer care staff to handle questions and feedback from customers, as well as provide assistance in registering customers for Aisles Online.
“The biggest change was how we communicated with our entire organization,” said Tina Potthoff, senior vice president of communications for Hy-Vee. “We recognized the need to quickly and effectively communicate with employees during this crucial time to keep everyone informed.”
To that end, Hy-Vee has added a mobile internal communications platform called Retail Zipline to communicate directly to its 85,000 employees, so everyone can hear the same message.
In addition to adding Plexiglas barriers like many retail stores, the grocery store chain also began using a Sterile Cart automated cleaning system to sanitize shopping carts after every use, eliminating the need for employees to manually clean the carts throughout the day.
“The measures we are taking with the health and wellness of our employees goes beyond physical safety,” Potthoff said. “We recognize the mental toll the pandemic and other factors are having on our employees as well as our customers.”
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Through Hy-Vee’s Employee Assistance Program, any employee or an immediate family member can talk several times with a mental health professional at no cost to the employee.
“We want to provide every possible resource to our employees as we all work through this very stressful pandemic,” Potthoff said.
Hy-Vee also rewarded all part- and full-time employees with a 10 percent bonus for hours worked from March 16 to May 3, a nearly $20 million commitment. It offers job protection benefits, for a minimum of two weeks, for employees who test positive for COVID-19 or are required to quarantine. And the grocery store chain expanded its employee benefits, including health care coverage for part-time employees, an enhanced 401(k) plan, holiday pay and appreciation bonuses.
“We believe these initiatives help lessen the stresses our employees may face, especially during COVID-19,” Potthoff said.