How to Create Employee Engagement in Manufacturing Environments

Posted by Allan Steinmetz on 5 March 2018

Tags: , , ,

How to Create Employee Engagement in Manufacturing Environments

Employee engagement is critical in every business sector

I am a big proponent of employee engagement programs in business, especially by customer-facing employees and companies. In the US, companies can experience as much as $145 billion dollars in incremental revenue when their employees are engaged, according to Gallup. However, manufacturing jobs are one sector that is the hardest to establish and maintain employee engagement. Manufacturing jobs affect quality, fit and finish, but rarely do manufacturing employees see or interact with the customer. There is a disconnect between what they do on the line and what the customer experience with the product they produce. The company’s manufacturing focus is generally on speed, quality and improving output and productivity with less cost, not the customer.

I recently came across an industry insight report by Kronos, the workforce management and human capital management software and manufacturing solutions company. Their report discusses employee engagement within manufacturing environments. I haven’t seen a manufacturing engagement study in a very long time.

Unemployment rates are the lowest we’ve seen in decades. Soon, with jobs coming back to the US, it is likely that manufacturing will experience employee shortages in the manufacturing sector.  By having an engaged manufacturing workforce, manufacturers might avoid the shortages. An engaged manufacturing workforce is a key to attracting and retaining the best talent in the competitive job market. The time to act and avoid a potential shortage and create a positive employee engagement program in the manufacturing sector is now - before the shortages become disabling.

Create a positive work environment

The Kronos report suggests that companies must create a positive work environment that should focus on four key areas.

•    Safety - this area includes rest between shifts to avoid fatigue, proper safety training to ensure qualified personnel are attending to equipment properly

•    Flexibility - maintaining a positive work-life balance and freedom/flexibility over their scheduled and unplanned necessary time off

•    Fair treatment - consistent policies and procedures for all employees based on need,  and meritocracy not seniority or hierarchy

•    Opportunity to make an impact -  a clear understanding of how an individual’s work has an impact on the performance of the organization and their ability to be a contributor to positive change

Manufacturing engagement facts and details

The factual insights help tell the story and the need for employee engagement in manufacturing. The report findings suggest there is room for improvement in three areas; 1) engagement and productivity, 2) manual processes contribute to productivity losses and 3) interpersonal interaction with employees affects how they work and feel about their work.

Engagement and productivity - For instance, 57% of respondents rate employee engagement as strong in their organization whereas 58% of respondents rate employee productivity as strong in their organization. This represents only a little over 50% support and suggests that there are significant opportunities for improvement

Manual processes contribute to productivity losses - nearly 3 hours are lost per week, 2.8 of which are due to administrative work that is deemed unnecessary. And 54% cited better technology would make the company more productive.

Interpersonal interaction with employees affects how they work and feel about their work - 54% cited a lack of motivation and feeling valued as a daily challenge. 48% say their working life is too complicated. 57% face heavy unrealistic workload on a daily basis and 72% say better, more up-to-date, technology systems would make them feel more engaged in business.

In the manufacturing world, the report cites that creating empowered employees starts with technology, data, and more involved managers. Employees view unplanned absences as a significant challenge and disruption to their work. Also, employees want to feel empowered in their roles and that their work makes an impact.

Employees view unplanned absences as a significant challenge - 39% cite high levels of absenteeism sickness as a daily challenge, 44% rate their absence management processes are weak, 61% report increased employee absence as a core disruption impacting their work and finally 59% say managing absenteeism is a truly challenging experience.

Employees want to feel empowered in their roles and that their work makes an impact - employees claim it’s all about the connection. Respondents cited two key factors that would increase employee engagement. 1) 75% said better/more up-to-date technology, 2) 70% better communication with management. Also, 57% feel the CEO's only focused on finances not that employees and 72% of the employees need to feel more engaged in the business.

What should leadership do?

Employee engagement, to be honest, is not brain surgery. However, so many leaders and organizations take it for granted. Employee engagement and effective communication should be treated internally as a process like any other business process within the organization. Have a strategy in place, allocate resources and provide significant budgets to make engagement a reality. Here are some thoughts that leadership should consider.

•    Leaders should lead by example. They must be approachable. Leaders should be creative and innovative. They should have an open door policy and welcome ideas and receive feedback from their manufacturing employees. This behavior will convey how employees in should behave

•    Empowerment. Leadership needs to appreciate the power of enabling individuals to take responsibility for their own jobs and destiny. Empower employees to make suggestions. Empower them to take risks. Empower them with the flexibility to get the job done on their time and on their terms. Empower employees to be self-accountable

•    Be flexible and understand that money is not the “carrot or the stick”. Consider alternatives to flexible work such as working remotely, flexible work days, sabbaticals, extended maternity leave, and new forms of recognition and rewards with time off

•    Treat HR as a business partner rather than a warden. Orchestrate training and development that demonstrates how their careers will be enhanced. The HR department should go beyond, benefits, rules/regulations, policy, and procedures. HR departments must evolve to being career development partners, behavioral/organizational designers and mentors

•    Identify positive behaviors and stories that will enhance the culture and the values of the organization. Accentuate those behaviors through storytelling and reliving them every day. Walk the walk (behaviors) and talk the talk (storytelling)

•    Be decisive and clear on what decisions you make and why they are necessary. Be transparent. Be honest and communicate clearly and frequently. Socialize why decisions are being made by all decision-makers throughout all levels of the organization. People expect clarity on why decisions are made and how they are made

•    Express your beliefs through motivating messages that are coupled with your business strategy, business objectives and customer’s desires.

I am curious to hear if you believe the manufacturing sector is different from nonmanufacturing sector. Please drop me a note and share your observations and reflections.

Allan Steinmetz CEO - Inward Strategic Consulting 617-558-9770