Speaking with NutraIngredients-USA via video, Brent Tignor, VP of Human Resources for New York-based Balchem, said that dealing with soaring market demand while also taking steps to protect their employees has been a challenge for the company.
“We were being asked to produce higher volumes than we were originally forecast to produce, and that created an even bigger challenge,” said Tignor. “I mean, it’s great to have the business and to be able to still sustain our business and our employees, but when not only are you dealing with the stresses of COVID issues personally and at work, to be really stretching your capabilities from a production standpoint was a challenge. And that’s why it was even more important for us to get out in front of putting protective measures in place.
“Also, being in this kind of industry, employees see the value of what they’re producing and how much it is helping people throughout the world by being able to continue to produce. So, I think considering doing something that is so important helps to motivate the team to continue to come in and produce,” he added.
Learning from experiences around the world
Balchem has operations in many countries around the world, including Italy, a country that suffered extensively early on during the coronavirus pandemic.
Italy is the hub for Balchem’s European operations and the company operates two facilities there. The company, thankfully, has been able to avoid any COVID-19 cases at its Italian sites.
“[Our experiences in Italy] did play a significant role in our ability to continue to navigate this pandemic as it spread to where the bulk of our operations are, and that’s the US.
“We were able to learn from some of our mistakes, to see what worked and what didn’t work, what people responded to and what they didn’t respond to.
“But what was most helpful was seeing firsthand how quickly the situation escalates. We certainly saw that in Italy where it felt like overnight it shut down. And as we saw it becoming a bigger issue in the US, having seen how quickly the situation evolved in Italy really helped us to be on the front end of this in terms of preventative measures, in terms of protection that we were providing to our employees, how we handled office staff.
“This was something you didn’t want to be a laggard with, you wanted to be out in front of it as much as you could, and that’s what would make all the difference.”
Supporting metal health
The coronavirus crisis is also placing a huge burden on everyone’s mental health, as we all deal with stress and anxiety associated with the threat, concerns and fears about the economy and our jobs, living under lockdowns, and so on.
“That [the potential mental health impacts] was a concern for us early on, and part of it was because everyone was in the same boat,” said Tignor. “We were all dealing with this, we’re all feeling the personal impacts of this, the stress, the concerns over our families, and that helped get everyone on the same page.
Tignor said that Balchem has focused on three things in relation to the mental health side of this coronavirus crisis. First is communication, second is preparedness, and the third is resources.
“One of the things that we’ve certainly seen, and I’ve seen it personally, is the importance of thoughtful, timely and frequent communication… When there’s a lack of information that naturally leads to conjecture and concern. And we saw communication as being incredibly crucial. The feedback we’ve received has been being thankful that we’re sharing what and how we’re doing as a company, but also educating employees on the facts of the pandemic itself.”
Preparedness: “Being out in front of these issues, putting things in place like mandatory social distancing or face coverings or closing our offices and having people work from home who could work from home. Honestly, in the early days we got a little bit of grief from some employees because people didn’t see why it was necessary. Being prepared and sharing those plans with employees put people at ease. It showed we were thinking through this.”
For resources, Tignor said this was things such as their employee assistance program for access to free counseling services, and also resources on the personal side, like resources for people to do virtually as families if they’re stuck at home for an extended period of time.
Watch the video above for more from Brent Tignor.