How the Best Workplaces in Manufacturing have risen to the COVID-19 challenge

September 10, 2020, 11:00 AM UTC

Arthrex and Stryker routinely compete in the field of medical devices. But during the global outbreak of COVID-19, these two companies have been on the same side of the fight. Both specialty manufacturers have stood out for safeguarding employees during the pandemic, as well as for making generous donations of medical equipment to those on the front lines.

Given the way the two companies have cared for their people and the wider community, it’s no wonder that both Stryker and Arthrex earned spots on the 2020 list of the Best Workplaces in Manufacturing & Production. Fortune just published this list, based on employee survey research from Great Place to Work, the global authority on workplace culture.

We asked leaders from the two companies about their high-trust, inclusive workplace cultures and how they’ve responded to the coronavirus crisis. From Arthrex, which is based in Naples, Fla., we interviewed Kathy Sparrow, senior vice president of human resources. From Kalamazoo-based Stryker, we interviewed Katy Fink, vice president and chief human resources officer.

The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Great Place to Work: Can you share a story that captures your company culture?

Kathy Sparrow of Arthrex: It’s especially rewarding to hear the stories of how our programs, such as the Arthrex Manufacturing Apprentice Program and other professional learning offerings, have positively impacted employees and made dreams a reality. Jackie Callejas Morejon is a CNC Swiss machine operator at Arthrex Manufacturing Inc. East in Ave Maria, Fla. When she was growing up, Jackie had always wanted to attend medical school and become a doctor. Unfortunately, her family couldn’t afford to pay her tuition and expenses.

Jackie started working for Arthrex in 2012 in the packaging department. Immediately noticing her strong work ethic and drive for continuous education, Jackie’s supervisor provided her with a path of learning and development opportunities for CNC machining, and her career continues to blossom. She’s now a full-fledged machinist working full-time in the high-volume Swiss machining department.

Jackie takes the Arthrex mission to heart. She says that her dream of becoming a doctor and helping people wasn’t possible at the time, but now she feels like a doctor and is so proud to be part of helping people.

Katy Fink of Stryker: It’s not uncommon to hear stories showcasing our employees’ commitment to our mission and values, and this did not change during the pandemic. For instance, a team at our Medical division came together to develop a low-cost, readily available bed to ship to hospitals quickly as caregivers faced the unprecedented need for additional equipment as they worked on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. 

In response to the need, our employees created the Emergency Relief Bed in seven days, and we supported their efforts every step of the way. We value the innovative and caring spirit of our employees and appreciate all they do to meet the needs of our customers.

We donated more than 22,500 Emergency Relief Bed Kits to Project C.U.R.E., a nonprofit organization that collects and distributes medical equipment and supplies to hospitals and clinics throughout the developing world. The kits included the bed frame, mattress, and IV pole. We also donated 6,000 replacement mattresses.  

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your operations? How have you kept your employees physically safe?

Sparrow: As an essential health care service provider, Arthrex has maintained all business operations throughout the pandemic, so it was crucial to immediately institute several precautionary measures and protocols to ensure the safest working environment possible.

At the onset of the pandemic, we established a COVID task force comprising company leaders representing key areas of the business, including human resources, operations, environmental health and safety, legal, corporate communications, and the Arthrex Medical Center. One of the first courses of action was to make a significant investment in Synexis Microbial Reduction Systems, a high-tech workplace disinfectant technology, which is proven to kill airborne and surface bacteria and viruses in buildings, using a low level of dry gaseous hydrogen peroxide. These state-of-the-art systems were installed in Arthrex facilities around the world.

Additional precautionary measures that have been implemented include mandatory masks inside all Arthrex facilities, wellness checkpoints at all building entrances with daily temperature screenings, free COVID-19 testing and medical guidance from the Arthrex Medical Center, a contact-tracing program, cleaning protocols that meet or exceed CDC guidelines, enforcing physical distancing guidelines in cafeterias and other common areas, and rotational work-from-home schedules for employees whose job functions permit them to work remotely.

Fink: When the pandemic began, we formed a Coronavirus Action Team that led the implementation of new policies and guidance on personal protective equipment, physical distancing, and travel restrictions. We developed a phased approach to returning to work that is driven by data and input from medical experts. And we developed policies to make sure that our staff meets the safety requirements of our customers and hospitals when essential product support is needed.

We also quickly developed new ways to engage and train our customers on the safe and effective use of products through virtual training. While this has been a challenging situation for all of us, this time has also given us the opportunity to reevaluate and develop new ways of working and collaborating with each other and our customers.

Kathy, your team at Arthrex has taken some notable steps amid the COVID-19 epidemic to take care of your people in terms of financial and emotional well-being. Can you tell us about those initiatives, the thinking behind them, and their impact?

Sparrow: During these uncertain times, we have been reminded of what makes the Arthrex culture so unique. While our employees were rising to the challenge, keeping production levels high and demonstrating exceptional dedication and team spirit in fulfilling our mission of “Helping Surgeons Treat Their Patients Better,” we recognized the personal and economic impact the pandemic was having on them, and we were committed to providing the innovative programs and resources they needed to take care of themselves and their families. 

Arthrex employees receive an annual discretionary bonus in July at our fiscal-year end. We made the decision to pay 50% of that bonus three months early in April (with the remaining 50% paid on time in July) in order to help offset any unexpected financial issues such as a spouse being laid off or increased childcare expenses. President and founder Reinhold Schmieding announced this decision, providing a motivating and inspirational message of appreciation to employees for their contributions and reiterating his commitment to taking care of the Arthrex family first.

Additionally, Arthrex implemented an emergency 14-day COVID-19 paid leave benefit for employees who were under mandatory quarantine from a health care provider and for employees who were classified as high risk by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Childcare became a significant issue with schools moving to distance learning and day-care centers closing. We worked closely to support employees with childcare issues, offering a variety of leave options and developing an internal referral network of available childcare providers, Childcare Connection, which is published on our employee intranet.

Morgan Goldsmith, a Stryker customer engagement innovations manager and a registered nurse, not only volunteered to care for patients amid the COVID-19 pandemic but also worked to create a Stryker policy allowing employees who retain their clinical licenses to serve in the field with company support.
Great Place to Work

You and your team shared a moving story of your employee Morgan Goldsmith. Morgan, a Stryker customer engagement innovations manager and a registered nurse, not only volunteered to care for patients amid the COVID-19 pandemic but also worked to create a Stryker policy allowing employees who retain their clinical licenses to serve in the field with company support. You now allow U.S. employees who are licensed health care professionals to receive paid leave and maintain their medical benefits if they choose to serve during a crisis. What does Morgan’s efforts say about your culture? And have others taken advantage of the new policy?

Fink: Morgan’s story is a great illustration of how we are united around and driven to fulfill our mission of making health care better. She answered that call to rejoin the front lines to offer her skills even though it required some personal sacrifices. Morgan’s story is also a good example of how, even as a large company, we are a family. Her Stryker family supported her and encouraged her during her time on the front lines.

Kathy, Arthrex manufactured and donated PPE to health care professionals and first responders on the front line in your community. Can you tell us more about these efforts?

Sparrow: We continue to manufacture high-quality, reusable face shields and protection hoods at Arthrex’s manufacturing facility in Ave Maria, Fla. The protection hoods, made of transparent plexiglass, are designed to protect health care professionals during procedures, including intubation. Intubation is the process of inserting a tube through a patient’s mouth into their airway. The tube is an essential step in placing patients on a ventilator, a standard treatment for patients with severe cases of COVID-19. Arthrex’s protection hoods allow clinicians access to intubate the patient while decreasing their exposure to germs and viruses, including COVID-19. Once the patient is intubated, the hood is removed, disinfected and ready for the next patient.

Since the onset of the pandemic, Arthrex has manufactured and donated thousands of face shields and protection hoods to date. Arthrex has donated to health systems, ambulatory surgery centers, physician and dentist offices, assisted living and long-term-care facilities, and first responders. Additionally, as schools prepare for students to return, Arthrex is donating thousands of face shields to school systems across our region to help protect teachers and school staff as they welcome students back to the classroom. 

Arthrex will continue manufacturing the face shields and protection hoods for as long as needed during this unprecedented time.

An Arthrex employee manufactures a face shield at a company facility in Ave Maria, Fla. Arthrex has manufactured and donated thousands of face shields and protection hoods during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mike Moreland (courtesy of Great Place to Work)

Katy, what is the connection between Stryker’s high-trust culture and the way you’ve responded to the COVID-19 crisis?

Fink: Challenging times such as the pandemic tests your organization and its values. We’ve been fortunate to know that although we’ve had to change the way we do things, we’ve been able to lean on the strength of our culture. Having one that is approachable and encourages open communication fosters engagement, even in a time when virtual interactions are more the norm.

Our employees continue to produce remarkable results, keeping customers and their patients at the heart of everything we do. 


Another manufacturing company making a difference

It’s not just medical device manufacturers that have met the moment of the pandemic in inspiring ways. Consider this story from another Best Workplaces for Manufacturing list winner, Landscape Forms. The Kalamazoo-based company makes furnishings for outdoor spaces, such as outdoor learning areas at schools. But it shifted gears once COVID-19 hit. Here’s what the company told Great Place to Work:

“Landscape Forms is proud of our overall response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, which included paying all our manufacturing team members during a five-week state mandated shutdown. This decision allowed our people to avoid the unemployment line and gave them the opportunity to say yes to a partnership with another local manufacturer to assemble emergency relief beds for hotspots all over the U.S. We are extremely proud of how our team members served the national community and how we lived our core values during unprecedented uncertainty and historic levels of economic and civic turbulence.”

See the full lists: the 10 Best Large Workplaces in Manufacturing and Production and the 15 Best Small and Medium Workplaces in Manufacturing and Production.

For information from Great Place to Work on how great workplace cultures are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic impacts, click here.

Ed Frauenheim is the senior director of content at Great Place to Work. He is coauthor of A Great Place to Work For All.

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