Beyond COVID-19: How the manufacturing industry should prepare
Saumya Joshi

Saumya Joshi

February 25th, 2020 4 min read

Why is seeing important?

You see, I see. Some see, some don’t see.

In our vision towards improving worker wellbeing, we in collaboration with VisionSpring and Shahi Exports, have embarked on a path to build a business case for garment manufacturing firms to invest in the eyehealth of their workers. Here, we highlight the importance of sight.

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Think about all of the things you were about to do before you chanced upon this article. How many could you do with your eyes closed?

How many could you do if you were looking through a car windshield in the rain? Vary the amount of rain as much as you like, at the end of the day, there would have been a couple extra things left on your to-do list.

Every year, the Indian economy faces $37 billion of productivity losses attributable to the poor eyesight 550 million Indians suffer from. The daily struggles of approximately 230 million of these people could be resolved if only they wore glasses. In the garment manufacturing industry, where precise, delicate handiwork is a necessary skill, it is easy to make a case to provide glasses to workers to improve the quality of their work and their lives.

But before we start handing out glasses, we must ask a few questions: why do workers not purchase glasses? Will they wear them if they get them for free? Which observable aspect of their lives will become qualitatively better?

Using a human-centered design approach, we created games and questionnaires to get these answers from the workers themselves. We realized that the cost of glasses, repeated check-ups and the lack of apt information around the ‘right’ healthcare provider were important barriers. But merely providing access to free glasses at the factory could not guarantee that workers would wear them; they might dislike their appearance, they may find glasses uncomfortable to wear, they might be discouraged by their family and peers’ attitude towards glasses.

So we decided to examine glasses-wearing behavior through 3 different trials, for workers diagnosed with presbyopia, who have never worn glasses before.

Trial one:

The first trial employs 4 different treatments to measure the impact on compliance. Workers will be randomized into 4 intervention groups; where they

  1. pay for glasses*
  2. get glasses for free
  3. get glasses for free + get assigned to an Eye Club or
  4. get glasses for free + get assigned to Supervisor Monitoring treatments.

The latter two treatments evaluate whether passing information through an experienced, glasses-wearing peer or through regular check-ins by the supervisor are more effective in enforcing compliance.

*A twist!

There’s an additional twist: those who agree to pay for their glasses (Treatment 1) will be randomized a second time so that half the workers in this group get a surprise discount when they pull out the money at the cash counter. The ‘surprise discount’ group will get their glasses for free. In this way, we can observe the impact of free glasses on compliance among people who had already expressed their willingness to pay for their glasses too.

Trials two & three:

The other two trials employ the same treatment: providing free glasses to presbyopic workers

(Trial 2) within a week of the eye-camp for the intervention group

(Trial 3) at the end of the intervention for the control group.

In trial 2, we compare productivity per worker between the treatment and control groups. In trial 3, we compare the probability of attriting from their jobs between the treatment and control groups.

Firstly, we expect that once workers have free glasses, conditional on compliance, individual-level productivity will rise — and a difference would be evident in a 3 month period.

Secondly, we expect that the probability of attrition will be lower for those who receive free glasses, over a 2 year period, compared to those who receive no glasses in that period. This would be because it will be easier for workers to meet their targets, with clearer vision, no headaches and a better temperament under the spell of the spectacles.

But these are all theories as of now.

The challenge lies in helping workers overcome their perceptions, discomfort, and conditioning, to deliver better results both for themselves and the firm. If this works out, we might just be able to make a strong case for employer-funded glasses provision in the manufacturing sector. The ultimate goal is to innovate and find a solution that can be scaled up in the garment manufacturing industry and beyond, in similar cultural contexts.

We are 3 trials closer to achieving this.

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