Companies turn to pandemic managers in the fight against Omicron

14 January 2022 | Industrial Services: Experts from TÜV NORD Akademie advise preparing for staff shortages in good time.

A rapid spread of the Omicron variant could also hit companies hard. Large parts of the workforce are at risk of dropping out of work due to illness or quarantine. Experts are strongly advising companies to prepare for such a scenario.

Experts from the TÜV NORD Akademie are warning companies not to be taken by surprise by the Omicron variant and fear the risk of snowballing staff absence. “Particularly susceptible to the fatally misplaced view that you can just soldier on are those companies which have somehow got through the pandemic with the aid of improvisation. Forecasts pointing to rates of absence of epic proportions are often not taken seriously,” warns TÜV NORD Akademie trainer Olaf Jastrob, management consultant and crisis manager. Massive staff shortages could affect not only the critical infrastructures that many people are already talking about, but all other companies too, whether they be service providers or manufacturing firms.

Both Jastrob and Hans-Walter Borries, Deputy Chairman of the Federal Association for the Protection of Critical Infrastructures (BSKI), are urging companies to appoint pandemic managers, ideally yesterday. These would play a key role in operational pandemic planning. “A pandemic manager has to come up with plans, training projects and training exercises and keep checking whether the theoretical concepts are also working out in practice,” explains Borries. This requires good training and the ability to make their voice heard in the company. The expert warns against appointing a person who is already carrying out five or six other functions, because pandemic planning is going to take a significant chunk of their working week.

According to the experts, how a company is going to react in an emergency in a strategically effective way should be determined by a pandemic plan that must be developed in house. For Borries, this includes analysing all the corporate processes to find out, for example, what the pandemic-related absence of individuals from the production chain would mean in practice. The key questions here: Which processes must continue, come what may? Who will stand in for key players? How will the company communicate what’s going on? The plan would also have to clarify which aids, such as masks or disinfectants, should be procured in advance and on what scale.

Jastrob refers to previous expert assessments in which the effects on the supply structure of staff shortages in a pandemic had already been analysed before the coronavirus pandemic hit. According to the assumptions, a regional absence rate due to illness of 30 percent and impairments of the infrastructure could in the worst-case scenario lead to up to 50 percent of employees in companies being unable to come to work. “What higher numbers of infections mean for all companies is the increased probability of a major staff shortage,” says Jastrob. “Good crisis management can be the difference between life and death for a company.”

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