Interview with Thorsten Fenudi, company doctor at Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG. Thorsten Fenudi has been one of two company doctors at HHLA since 2016. During the pandemic, the medical team advised the coronavirus task force appointed by the Executive Board and helped ensure that social distancing and hygiene measures were observed on site.
After HHLA received vaccine supplies, a targeted campaign was rolled out to get as many employees as possible vaccinated. Mr Fenudi explains in an interview how well-functioning internal corporate communication helps to strengthen company cohesion even in times of crisis.
Mr Fenudi, in an interview published internally at HHLA on 28 April 2020, you said: “This is not a sprint, but a marathon”. Did you expect the pandemic to last so long – and what are you and your colleague Dr Loorns Sänke Hahn doing to ensure that no one gets tired of sticking to the social distancing and hygiene rules in the long term?
We knew that the pandemic would keep us busy for several years. That there would be various waves was clear and foreseeable from earlier pandemics. But the ferocity of the omicron wave caught me by surprise. It taught me that each virus variant brings new challenges, that we must continue to calmly monitor the progression of the pandemic, and that despite our desire for an end to the pandemic, we also need to be prepared for new variations. Now it’s more like climbing a hill than a marathon. With peaks and troughs, this is how pandemics generally evolve – including the fatigue over time. On a positive note, most people have internalised the basic AHA+L hygiene rules. The overwhelming majority are also fully vaccinated. But there is still a need to persuade those that aren’t with easily accessible vaccines, because vaccination is ultimately the key to ending the pandemic.
Now it’s more like climbing a hill than a marathon.
The pandemic also poses an immense challenge for HHLA and all its employees. What measures is the company taking to protect its employees and at the same time to ensure workplace safety?
Ultimately, the catalogue of demonstrably suitable measures is not particularly extensive. The coronavirus vaccine offers the best possible protection against the virus. At HHLA, we therefore continue to offer all employees the vaccine and facilitate them attending their appointments. In addition, the usual AHA+L measures and work-at-home rules continue to apply. Depending on the severity of infections, contact restrictions were tightened. For example, fixed working groups were created, shift overlaps were avoided and the technology needed for remote working and virtual meetings was set up very quickly. What helped us at HHLA was the cooperation of the departments involved and the willingness of employees to adhere to measures consistently despite the duration.
The willingness of employees to adhere to measures consistently helped us a lot.
What was the biggest challenge of the vaccination campaign and how did you and Dr Hahn meet it?
It took a very long time for company doctors to be approved for the first vaccination campaign. When we were eventually “allowed” to open the HHLA vaccination centre, we were allocated frustratingly few vaccine supplies. We were unable to influence either when the campaign would begin or the quantity of vaccines supplied. We had to accept this unpredictability. We used the time and had a finished concept before launching the campaign. Even though we would have liked to have had more vaccine supplies available from the beginning, the vaccination campaign was a success in the end.
There was a lot of fear and disinformation around the coronavirus disease and the vaccine. How did you use internal communication to specifically alleviate employees’ fears and insecurities?
We set up a HHLA vaccination campaign landing page together with HHLA Corporate Communications. There we provided basic information and answered all of the main questions in a FAQ section. We also included our video testimonies as company doctors and offered each employee an individual consultation.
Which questions about the vaccine came up most often?
Most employees came to their vaccine appointment very well informed. The majority of the questions revolved around potential side effects. But one of the most common questions was “How often will I have to get vaccinated?” – and to this day we cannot give a definitive answer.
Which information measures do you find particularly useful and relevant when addressing employees’ concerns?
A personalised approach is always key. This is the best way to answer individual questions Since we could not advise employees on an individual basis, it was vital for us to get the basic information across via various channels and multipliers jointly with corporate communications. The HHLA intranet, the HHLA team app and the digital info boards at the terminals were our main communication channels.
What conclusion can you draw from the campaign until the end of 2021?
Apart from the fact that we did not have enough vaccine supplies at the beginning of the HHLA vaccination campaign, the process went smoothly and was a total success from my point of view. We were able to make vaccines easily accessible to HHLA employees, and extend the offer to their relatives at a later date. In total, we had vaccinated about 1,500 employees by the end of the year. HHLA was able to play its part in the coronavirus vaccination campaign and will continue to do so.