4 Ways Manufacturers Can Build A Great Work Culture

| August 12, 2021

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In the midst of a labor shortage, you managed to get their attention. They listened, during the interview, as you described the work. You put in the time to answer every question, and even a few follow-up questions the next day. They weighed the pay and the benefits you promised. But they took a job somewhere else instead. While the trend is for white collar workers to work from home, blue collar workers don’t have that option. This is becoming a question of work culture disparity. Why did that candidate pass on working for you? The pay you offered was competitive. The work itself wasn’t out of line. The hours weren’t unusual. It had to do with the work culture. In a labor shortage, work culture matters more than ever.

Manufacturers have a tough road ahead of them. Workplace culture is about personal well-being, which working from home directly addresses. Millennial and Gen Z workers, who value culture and work-life balance more than any generation before them, are looking for a work culture that is difficult to offer for blue collar employees. So how do you build a great work culture at your manufacturing plant? We’ll show you four ways you can make your culture stand out from the competition, without breaking the bank. Not only will you attract new hires, but you’ll retain your current valuable employees. Great work culture starts with empathy and respect. Empathy and respect don’t cost you anything, but they are priceless.

It’s kind of a no-brainer, but these two are the foundation of great work culture. Employees want to feel valued. How do you do that?

1. Treat them as you want to be treated.
People have lives outside of work. You do yourself, and you know that when things come up in your life, you hope others understand and try to make allowances. Do the same for employees. Be respectful and show empathy, even if you can’t personally identify with or understand what they’re going through.

2. See employees as individuals.
No employee wants to feel like a replaceable cog in the machine, or just another number being tracked in the system. Is there anything worse than a manager who doesn’t even know the names of the people working for them? While people are easily placed into categories based on demographics, job positions, and skills for various reasons, seeing them only as a member of a faceless category makes it easy to treat them as less than human. Individuals have personalities, work styles, quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. Pay attention to these kinds of things. Learn names and interests. Praise the great things they do. Communicate with them with their specific interests and personality in mind.

3. Learn how to show empathy in tangible ways.
Empathy sounds like some vague emotional thing that can’t be measured. In reality, empathy in action is very tangible. A caring, empathetic work culture offers:
Easy hiring processes. Finding, applying for, and interviewing for a job shouldn’t be a job in itself. Make the hiring process easy. Put all the information you can out there so they don’t waste their time applying for a job that isn’t a good fit for them. Thoughtful onboarding and training. Train based not only on the position, but in light of the new hire’s preferences and personality. The hiring process should provide you with information on how they best learn. Good benefits and compensation. It goes without saying that during a labor shortage, especially, your benefits and compensation must be very competitive.
Flexible scheduling- This is about work-life balance, and allowing people the necessary time and space to breathe instead of work dictating when everything in life happens.
Meaningful tasks - Cogs in a machine do meaningless, menial, and repetitive tasks. While some of these tasks are inevitable, help employees see how they are necessary. Show them how it all fits into the process and give importance to the tasks. Avoid busywork just to keep someone occupied. If there’s downtime, use it for cross-training.
Valuable feedback - Both positive and negative feedback can be valuable (or worthless) depending on how you communicate. Make sure your feedback is constructive, with specific examples and actionable points. Instead of crushing employees, you want to help them grow.
Empathy is caring about people, and every part of the hiring and work process allows for you to do that. When empathy is at the center of your culture, from hiring to how you plan your shifts, employees can feel it. They know you value them. They know that’s rare in the manufacturing world, and they’ll want to stick with you and grow with your company.

Make your workplace flexible
Creating a flexible workplace is one of those tangible ways of showing empathy. Instead of rigid shifts and schedules that don’t bend for anyone or any situation, a flexible workplace means giving employees more control over their time. Doctor’s appointments, parent-teacher conferences, car service appointments, and just about any other emergency can pop up during an employee’s shift. Being flexible (and empathetic) means you make the effort to allow them to deal with these things without undue stress or pressure.

You know what happens when you give your employees room to handle every area of their lives?

You end up with happier employees who are less stressed. These are employees who stick around and provide good word-of-mouth to potential hires. They are also employees who have a positive effect on your bottom line. It’s true that this kind of flexibility could be challenging for you when it comes to scheduling shifts. That’s why it’s important to use the right scheduling tools that make flexible self scheduling and unexpected shift coverage easy. It would be a real shame if you made life difficult for employees simply because you didn’t have the right tools to inject some flexibility into your schedule. Here’s a bonus, if you’re not convinced of the merit of being flexible, consider this: not only does this kind of flexibility help your employees, but it makes your business more agile. You’ll be able to adapt to market changes much easier than if you have a rigid work structure in place.

Go mobile and give employees more control
The technology you use should be the technology your employees want. They are already living on their mobile phones. That’s where your scheduling and communication should be. By going mobile-first, when it comes to creating the employee schedule, you give power back to your employees. It’s part of being flexible, and caring about them enough to not demand that they drive in or call someone at the plant to find out if a schedule has been posted in the break room.

Instead, they can confirm shifts, request time off, and see everything they need to know about their schedule or open shifts they could claim. They can communicate easily with each other and with management, from one mobile app. Employees have more control over their life. And even better, you don’t have to micromanage. No more long, stressful hours of scheduling and dealing with time-off requests. Set up the structure, plug in the shifts, and let the automation and employee participation kick in.

Increase employee engagement
Employee engagement is one of those buzz-word phrases that can easily turn into a list of gimmicks rather than being genuine. A cafeteria birthday party is nice, sure, but it’s not real engagement. It’s a one-off nod to an employee. So how do you really stay engaged with your employees?

Make sure your employees feel appreciated, noticed, and recognized. Reward positive behavior, no matter how small it might seem. Make it easy for employees to share ideas for improvement, and then actually listen to them. Implement ideas that are valid.
Create opportunities for employee socializing, whether on the job at break, or outside work hours. It’s the one huge benefit in-person workers have over those who work from home. Make it count. Create work events so that employees can get to know each other. It’s especially important for shift workers, who may not otherwise meet others on different shifts.
Make it easy for employees to communicate easily with each other within safe boundaries. Great example? Use When I Work’s chat feature, built right into the platform employees are already using to monitor their work schedule. They can talk to managers and each other without sharing personal contact information or playing phone tag.
Whether it’s a long list of employee engagement ideas, or a much shorter one, the cornerstone is the same: care about people individually. And then, give them the tools to easily balance a healthy work and personal life. Creating a great work culture doesn’t happen in a day. It takes work, and cultural shifts are some of the toughest wheels to turn. By choosing the right tools, you can grease those wheels. When I Work can help manufacturers like you by providing you with what you need to be flexible, mobile-first, with a work-chat feature that makes communication and employee connection simple

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