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What Manufacturers Can Do To Keep Employees Happy And Increase Retention

What Manufacturers Can Do To Keep Employees Happy And Increase Retention

Whatever kind of change management strategies you’re developing, here’s how to keep your employees at the centre of the process.

Whether it’s the machinery that runs an assembly line or an entire factory, Canadian manufacturers are well aware that their operation will only be successful if they make sure to keep on top of repairs and upgrades. Every single part counts.

It’s not different with the people who operate or work with that equipment. Besides helping to put products together, those who work in manufacturing environments may be responsible for packaging, cleaning and preparing items for distribution.

Behind the scenes, meanwhile, there are those who operate other critical roles within manufacturing businesses. This includes marketers, sales reps, customer service agents, finance, HR and IT. The moment any one of those employees decides to resign it can create a huge hole that’s difficult to fill. In other words, every single person counts.

Some degree of turnover is to be expected in any sector, of course, but the past few years have underscored the vital importance of strengthening our manufacturing sector through periods of economic turbulence. With supply chain challenges already making customers wait longer to receive their purchases, any shortage of manufacturing staff could make it more difficult to produce products in the first place.

Last November, a survey conducted by the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) showed that COVID-19 has made hiring even more difficult than it was before the pandemic. A vast majority of manufacturers (82%) said they are facing labour shortages. Three quarters, meanwhile, said the situation was worse than in 2020.

Manufacturing is often considered a well-paying sector, of course, but small companies may not be able to compete on salaries alone. Even for larger firms, recruiting those in skilled trades or specialized knowledge work could prove to be an uphill battle.

This is creating real urgency to pay greater attention to the employee experience (EX) of those working manufacturing, regardless of their job title. Just as it’s usually easier to try and retain an existing customer than find a new one, companies won’t be able to address their hiring challenges until they’ve taken steps to boost the loyalty of their current team.

Whatever kind of change management strategies you’re developing, here’s how to keep your employees at the centre of the process:

1. Take the Pulse of Employee Engagement (and Not Just Once a Year)

Many organizations, including those outside manufacturing, conduct some kind of employee engagement survey as part of their EX efforts. This often happens on an annual basis — perhaps close to the period where senior leaders begin their strategic planning for the year ahead.

The upheaval employees have gone through since the pandemic began could be an opportunity to check in much more often. This could continue to be done through a survey, though that’s not the only option. Companies should explore building in employee feedback tools in their intranet. They could launch a dedicated channel about issues that matter to employees within Slack. Virtual town halls are another great way to interact with employees, where concerns or constructive criticism can be captured in real time.

2. Open Avenues for Ongoing Upskilling and Reskilling

There is a perception that working manufacturing means being stuck in repetitive, manual tasks that do little to challenge us intellectually. Of course, there are plenty of examples within Canadian manufacturing that show the opposite is true. However employees tend to stay longer with companies where they see a bright future.

Instead of worrying about whether automation will take away their jobs, for instance, look at how you can introduce simple ways for existing employees to either prepare themselves for the transformation of their role, or to pursue entirely new ones.

For those on the assembly line, reskilling could involve helping them to master the digital tools they will increasingly use to monitor progress and boost their productivity. Upskilling could mean those on the front lines use platforms like Trailhead to understand a CRM and build on their experience by joining the sales team.

3. Use Data to Draw Out the Meaning of Everyday Work

Is there a disconnect between those working in the offices of a manufacturer and those on the factory floor? In some companies, for instance, those working in sales and marketing feel a sense of fulfillment as they help the organization grow to the point where it can expand into a new market. On the factory level, team members might not know what’s going on — and as a result, don’t care.

Digital technology isn’t just a way to help manufacturers improve their ability to forecast, increase revenues and reduce waste. They can also tell data-driven stories about how the organization is transforming. Tools like Tableau make it easy to visualize where a manufacturing company is today, and where it is headed tomorrow. Use them to bring everyone on the same page and break down any silos that exist across the employee base.

4. Introduce Enhancements Throughout the Employee Journey

Not everyone working in manufacturing will be sitting in front of a laptop or smartphone all day long, but the right digital technologies can bring them convenience when it matters. This includes tools to help employees get hired and onboarded even if they can’t come into the office right away. Other systems can allow them to set or manage their schedules, and receive important safety updates from wherever they are.

5. Remind, Recognize and Reward Whenever Possible

Little things mean a lot, like an employee who receives an e-mail or text from their manager wishing them a happy birthday. An employee newsletter can highlight top performers, or shine a spotlight on those who solved a problem that might have cost the firm money.

Beyond bonuses, manufactures can reward employees by investing in professional development such as memberships to industry associations. They can set up mentoring programs with those working in other departments. They could be given time to volunteer as part of a corporate philanthropy strategy. Ask for their input on what would be most meaningful, and then make it happen.

Happy employees in manufacturing ultimately mean companies will be able to hold onto the expertise and institutional memory of those who have gotten them to where they are now. There’s no better ROI for improving your employee experience than that.

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