When was the last time anyone applauded in your workplace? And not following a CEO speech. If you can’t remember, you’ll want to keep reading.
In a perfect world, employees at every level in a company are motivated to do a great job. They encourage others in their tasks, are happy to be at work, and they embrace the corporate mission and do their part to make it a reality. In fact, the staff performs so well that the leadership feels gratified and realizes these employees are their most important asset. And they treat employees as such. Everybody wins.
Does this utopian view sound a bit out of touch? Unsustainable over the long term? We think not, because we know companies that are succeeding this way. But to achieve this near-perfect, engaged employee base, company leaders might need to adjust certain ways of thinking, particularly when it comes to production line workers. In fact, it’s this very group of workers that we want to address in this article, because they are often the most overlooked when it comes to recruitment, motivating and retaining.
Low unemployment makes it tough to compete
With unemployment at an all-time low in most regions of the U.S., it’s more difficult than ever to recruit high-quality candidates. If you are a manufacturer or other business-to-business company, you might have low name recognition in your geographic area, making it harder to compete with familiar consumer brands like Amazon, GE and others.
To compete better and improve recruitment, you’ve likely considered raising the starting wage, adding more vacation days, or bolstering your benefits package. These ideas have value and each of these factors should be considered to ensure you are at least competitive with others in the area. But many companies have found that while these things matter, they are not enough to create that engaged, committed employee base that is so important to a company’s performance over time.
People need to know their work matters
For many companies, the missing ingredient is simple: it’s about creating a culture where everyone knows that their work matters, and everyone has a voice in how that work is best achieved. People on the factory floor want to understand and feel proud of how the product they are making contributes to a better world; with this knowledge comes understanding of why certain quality measures are needed or protocols must be followed.
People working in “professional office positions” usually have a voice in how their work is accomplished, and are able to feel a certain amount of pride when goals are achieved. But this is not as easy for many production workers. They might drill or solder or fetch supplies all day long, with little understanding of why they do these tasks. They aren’t asked to think. No wonder they are bored or unhappy. No wonder they are a retention risk.
That’s why company leaders need to find ways to engage and motivate people. Communication is so important. Give production employees the big picture of how their job results in a part that helps send a shuttle into space or deflects a missile or operates a kidney dialysis machine. Find the connections to why their job matters and why the company they work for matters.
And then, give them a voice. In fact, give them enough of a voice that you start to become uncomfortable with the process – as this is found to be the point where companies actually get the best work from their staff! Reward people for coming up with ideas that simplify a process.
We know of a guy who created his own rolling tool cart because he felt he was wasting too much time getting up and walking over to a storage cabinet every time he needed to switch tools. His company empowers their people to do anything they think would improve efficiency or quality; they also allow people time every day to work on these ideas. The young man made a brief video documenting his idea and shared it with the entire facility, both office and factory. Everyone applauded his ideas and execution. He feels empowered and valued, while the company is now more efficient. Win-Win!
Laughter, cheers and applause happen just about every day on the production floor at the company mentioned above. That’s because their leadership understands the value of employees sharing their successes with each other. Everyone in the building, from every level of the company, has a chance to talk about and celebrate achievements. The energy, the ownership, and the sense of pride among both production and office staff are palpable. Employee motivation is high, turnover is low, and recruitment is easier.
Today’s leaders need to consider whether their company culture is about embracing greatness at every level or just making sure the work gets done. If it’s the latter, then retaining good employees is going to be tougher. And in today’s tight job market, losing good people is the last thing you want.
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