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NOTEBOOK: Some takeaways from the latest ‘Lifting the Veil’ panel


“Dialing in” to employees’ needs during the pandemic has been an important part of leading Deere & Co. through this difficult time, particularly for production workers who must be present on the factory floor daily, says Rosalind Fox, plant manager of John Deere Des Moines Works in Ankeny. 

Unlike many companies that have been able to have their workforce operate remotely from their homes, “we can’t build tractors in our backyards,” Fox said during a Lifting the Veil webinar held Oct. 29 by dsm magazine. She was part of a panel of business leaders who provided insights and best practices about how their organizations are helping workers cope with the mental health challenges of the protracted COVID-19 emergency. 

One of the ways that Fox and her top managers keep dialed in to their workers’ needs is frequent interaction with front-line employees. “My entire leadership team and I walk the line every day asking, ‘What can we do differently?’ ” she said. “We want them to know they’re not out there alone.”

Jon Couture, chief human resources officer with Principal Financial Group, said that having employee resource groups that bring people with common experiences together on a regular basis is an effective way of providing support. Additionally, frequent spot surveys are used to quickly gauge the concerns of employees on particular topics. “I would say just about every week we’re sending out surveys, so it’s almost a random sample of the population that are frequently surveyed,” he said.  

Creating a special pay code for hourly workers is a step that both Deere and Principal took early on during the pandemic to provide leeway and flexibility for employees who need to address family or emergency issues that come up. 

Couture lamented that although Principal offers a “robust” employee assistance program to its workers globally, the takeup rate is low. “We’re thinking that part of it is the stigma attached to [seeking help] for mental health,” he said. 

Employee assistance programs are universally underutilized, said Peggy Huppert, executive director of NAMI Iowa, who also was on the panel. “Part of it is not understanding what the resource is and how it can help them,” she said. 

“The key to it, I think, is education, to have people who have used it to share their experiences,” Huppert said. A program for military families that NAMI offers, called Home Front, has been rolled out at several military bases around the country. NAMI leaders found that practically no one would sign up unless the unit’s commanding officer — or the CO’s spouse — had signed up. 

“The big thing about stigma is that it thrives in silence,” Huppert said. “We find that if leaders talk about their experiences, it encourages participation.”

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