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There’s Good News at the Grocery Store. Just Ask the People Officer.

My father has always worked in the baking industry. As a child, he worked as a route salesman for Drake’s Cakes (you know the one… Ring Dings, Devil Dogs). I remember seeing his “Duck Truck” parked outside on a hot summer day and running out to greet him in all his dirty, sweaty, glory as he climbed down to grab another water bottle from the garage before heading to his next stop. Thirty years later, amid a pandemic, I am surprised to find his impact on people’s daily lives on-par with a physician’s. He is now a part of the essential workforce. He and all his comrades are now being celebrated as the unsung heroes of COVID-19 and their welfare, adaptability, and experience are top of mind for all of us, but perhaps especially for the people officers and TA leaders.

In speaking with our grocery customers over the last few weeks, I found myself asking them how they’re banding together to meet the unprecedented challenges COVID has created. Again and again, their responses encompassed the kind of respect and goodwill I have always wanted for my dad and his co-workers. Here’s a sampling of the conversations that have helped restore my faith in people and the world.

At Southeastern Grocers, “Taking care of associates is a priority for us,” said Chris Hernandez, Sr. Manager of Human Resources Information Systems—and he is not just paying lip service. SEG was one of the first grocers to put Plexiglas dividers in key locations in store, where social distancing was nearly impossible (think: registers, the pharmacy, etc.). Plus, the grocer implemented temperature checks and encouraged their associates to wear masks, all in an effort to protect the health and well-being of their associates. But it hasn’t been just about physical protection. SEG has also been looking out for their associates’ financial health as well, offering bonuses, doubling the grocery discount for associates and changing the company vacation policy to be more flexible. Chris believes that “your actions—positive and negative—impact other people” and he is being very thoughtful about what actions he can take to positively impact associates’ lives, understanding that “in these times, [they] are frontline workers.”

Gordon Food Service’s Shannon King has been impressed with the “enthusiasm and the commitment of those around [her].” As the Manager of Talent Acquisition, Shannon has witnessed a leaning into the brand’s service mentality as employees ask, “What can they be doing for each other, the community and their customers.” In the early weeks of the pandemic, there was intense pressure on Gordon Food Service to meet demand, as store volume soared. Teams were encouraged to stay flexible as they worked to design and implement quick, impactful changes. And they delivered in spades—building online ordering programs, modifying distribution centers, and taking hiring completely virtual. “The teams who are involved are very humble and they don’t want to take a lot of credit, but they’re very proud of themselves. [They] rose to the challenge in support of our customers and each other…[making our] organization stronger.”

It turns out, my Dad was always the hero I believed him to be. The only difference now is everyone knows.

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