Which Came First: Essential Employees or The Customer?

“Hi Mo.  I know it looks like we’re gonna get hit pretty hard, but I just can’t come in to work…”

“Whaddaya mean Homer? You know the rules.  You’re one of my essential employees. They even cancelled all vacations. I had to come back from Dollywood to be here.”

 “…Yeah, I know.  But ya see, the boy’s down with some kinda flu…”

 “Ya gotta get in here Homer.”

“…And ya know my wife’s 7 months…”

“No exceptions.  Sorry Bud.”

“…Look, they don’t even have the tarp off our roof yet…”

“Nothing I can do for ya there pal.”

“Mo, we only got the one car.  If Cindy has to get the kids to a shelter…”

“Tell her to carpool with a neighbor.  Get in here.”

“…But you know we live out here in West Jabip.  There’s nobody she can get a ride with…”

“Shoulda planned better.  Sorry, you know it’s Company Policy.

“…All right Mo.  I’ll be in.  Just gotta stop by the Guns & Ammo store on the way.”

We know a conversation like that could never happen, right?  But just for a moment, let’s consider a different approach…

“Hi Mo.  I know it looks like we’re gonna get hit pretty hard, but I just can’t come in to work…”

“Yeah Homer, it looks pretty bad, but we need ya, so how can I help?

“Well, the boy’s down with the flu, Cindy’s 7 months pregnant, I got a tarp on the roof and we only have the one car…”

“Sounds like you’re in a fix there Homer.  Look, why don’t I call our Employee Help Line for ya?  Maybe they can get Joey over to Urgent Care and help your family get setup someplace safe where they can ride out this storm.  Ya want me to send a contractor out to help you secure that tarp better?”

Far fetched?  Futuristic?  Couldn’t happen?  Really?  Consider the following recent case histories:

Southern Company

Hurricane Katrina had an unprecedented impact on the employees of Mississippi Power. Many homes were destroyed, flooded, or severely damaged. In response, Southern Company’s Family Services immediately mobilized support teams from around the company system to provide services and help employees’ families arrange places to stay, repair homes, clean up debris, and move furniture to storage facilities, among many other necessary tasks. Knowing that their families and homes were being taken care of enabled many essential employees to return to work quickly.

Tenet Care

The Tenet Care Fund was established to provide financial assistance to Tenet employees who’ve experienced hardship due to events beyond their control, including disasters, extended illnesses or injuries, and other special situations.  The Care Fund’s grants can help pay for essential living expenses, such as housing, utilities, food, clothing and other basic necessities.


“To Our Team in Japan,

“We have all been following the unfolding disaster in Japan. Our hearts go out to you and your families, as well as all of your countrymen who have been touched by this tragedy.

“If you need time or resources to visit or care for your families, please see HR and we will help you. If you are aware of any supplies that are needed, please also tell HR and we will do what we can to arrange delivery.

“Again, our hearts go out to you during this unimaginable crisis.  Please stay safe.”

Steve (Jobs) and the entire Executive Team

The utility industry is, by nature, extremely customer-focused and strives to constantly deliver accurate and helpful outage communications during major weather events.  In an emergency, restoring customers with the electricity, the fuel or the water they need becomes an urgent priority.   But when things get rough, employees’ first thoughts are bound to be about their families’ welfare. Can your people really work safely and effectively if they are worried about their families?

Great organizations know that in order to take good care of their customers, they must first take great care of their employees.  So what can your company do?  Consider some of the resources you could have at your disposal:

Before The Storm

  • A sample standby Family Emergency Plan, distributed to employees and their families in advance, to help them marshal food, water and medical supplies, including family evacuation or transportation alternatives.
  • “Go Bags” for essential employees and their families, equipped with first aid, hygiene items, toiletries and an emergency checklist.

During And After The Storm

  • Partnerships with relief agencies – Salvation Army, Red Cross, Churches, Labor Organizations, etc. to help with employee needs.
  • A pool of utility retirees who could be activated to help where needed.
  • Contractors who could help with temporary repairs, like roof tarps.
  • A restoration company on stand-by for deployment to homes of employees.
  • Company claims reps to help employees negotiate with their personal homeowner’s insurance carrier.
  • Interest free loans to help until the insurance settlement arrives.
  • Cash to help tide employees over (like the Tenet Care Fund).
  • Transportation for employees’ families to alternative housing.
  • A cadre of employee teams who could help do clean-up and sort through debris.
  • HR reps who could check on families periodically to make sure they are OK, and to report on the employee who is now at work.
  • Access to shelter for pets.

It has become common practice to congratulate essential employees and first-line response professionals for their “above and beyond” restoration efforts by distributing tee shirts and hats after a big service interruption.  Maybe it’s time to do something a bit more meaningful for them in advance.  They might just get the idea that you really care.

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