Despite recovering more than 1 million positions since 2010, according to a recent report in the New York Times, the manufacturing sector of the United States workforce is the least engaged occupation across the United States, according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace. This article summarizes some ideas of what you can do to combat this trend.
Manufacturing companies and factories have not kept pace with the rest of the ever-changing work environment. The US national average for employee engagement is 33%, while manufacturing is 8 percentage points lower than the national average.
As workers in factories observe friends and family in other industries or occupations having flex time or just being part of a more empowered workforce, they’d like to experience some of those benefits as well, but their workplace environment simply may not allow for that kind of flexibility.
Manufacturing and factories may be unique in several ways that present challenges for employee engagement. Unions acting as third party advocates can add a layer of processes and procedures before change can occur.
The Engagement Challenge: Fad or Talent-attraction?
“Stryker is one company that has a highly engaged workforce. Eamonn Nestor, senior director of operations at the global medical technology company, said the culture created there from the top front-line leaders is what propels his company's scores higher than the norm,” Gallup reports.
"Engagement can be something that's treated like a fad," Nestor said, "or it can be treated as a way to brand our company in a certain way that attracts talent."
What does Stryker do that makes them stand out? The best leaders on the floor stay late so they can chat with the second shift employees. They also knew every single employee’s name, some up to 1,500 people! These examples of caring create an atmosphere where the individual feels like they matter.
Other highly-performing companies, as well as Stryker, offer these ideas to boost engagement.
Make sure people feel like they matter. This is perhaps the most important task for the leadership team to figure out. What will make every team member feel like they matter when they arrive at work? Do your employees know how they fit into the complex infrastructure of the company? What would happen if your leadership team hosted regular breakfasts for the night shift? Try bringing customers to the plant to speak with employees about the impact of their products.
Be available, and be engaged. Employee engagement is a two-way street. Managers must be open and receptive to employee concerns and incorporate that feedback into enriching future procedures.
Clear communication. Seems straightforward, but this task is crucial. Why the company follows processes and getting that information properly to the workers is critical. Another example of communicating clear objectives could be facilitating town hall meetings, and meetings between customers and employees. Let groups discuss the impact the products have on customers.
More control. Manufacturing schedules are often dictated by day-to-day processes and outcomes, with much of the work predetermined for the day or hour. It’s of little surprise that this fact alone can dampen engagement. Great manufacturing leaders figure out how much control they can give back to the employees, giving them some choice in potentially rote procedures.
Create accountability. When done correctly, accountability makes for higher engagement. Great managers work with employees to establish “how we can all be” accountable to the work. It is important to make sure underperforming employees and managers are held accountable, even in situations where management structures may not lend themselves to performance accountability.