Gemma Stanbridge, ViAGO International Limited
We all have heard how important it is to have workers who are engaged with their roles and motivated to put their best into what they do.
Despite this, recent research reports only 12% of construction, manufacturing, and production workers worldwide are engaged in their roles. Sixty-four percent of workers in this sector are not engaged, with 24% of workers actively disengaged.
Manufacturing workers particularly struggle with engagement, and this is often due to a process-focus rather than an employee-centred focus that promotes engagement.
Workers in production roles are less likely to have any say in determining how their day will be structured or what could be done to improve their job or workplace.
In fact, manufacturing and production workers have the lowest rates of engagement among employees worldwide¹. And yet, the primary approaches to improving productivity in this sector focus on process optimisation. Why are we leaving productivity on the factory floor?
The Problem with Process-Centred Approaches to Productivity
Conventional management in manufacturing continues to put processes ahead of people, despite evidence that employee engagement is a significant factor in productivity. Discussions about increasing productivity focus on getting more out of resources using cost-cutting, efficiency and utilisation targets.
Factories with this mentality often offer low wages for long hours, and although workers are expected to increase output and reduce lead times, their efforts are seldom recognised. Unsurprisingly, there’s little motivation for workers to do more than ‘the bare minimum,’ and workers may even act out due to feelings of frustration and the perception they are not valued by management.
Management must consider that employees are an important element of any Productivity Journey, and a mindset shift from cost and efficiency measures can increase employee engagement and productivity.
A Closer Look at the Impact of Employee Engagement
It’s no surprise that engaged employees produce better business outcomes. This applies across industry, across company size and nationality, in good economic times and bad. Increased employee engagement also results in lower customer defect rates, increased customer satisfaction and lower staff turnover rates.
But, most significantly, more than 65% of the bottom line that a business can control is derived directly from employee engagement.
When 64% of workers in the manufacturing sector turn up at work without energy and passion for the jobs they do, converting this group of employees to engaged workers has huge potential to increase productivity in the industry.
Increasing the engagement of actively disengaged employees is also valuable, to ensure any productivity gains achieved are protected.
This focus doesn’t mean that manufacturers should throw out their process improvement plans, but it does mean managers may have to look at how they implement them.
Similar to the effects of employee engagement, those that are engaged in the process improvement or change project will go out of their way to make it succeed.
Those who are not engaged will let it happen, and those actively disengaged may actually undermine the implementation.
Process improvement should be a journey that employees are actively involved in, not something that is happening around or to them.
What Can Managers Do?
Get to Know the People on the Floor
Managers can get to know their people — who they are, not just what they do. Every interaction with an employee can influence their engagement and inspire their effort.
This alone may not be enough to increase employee engagement, but it lays the foundation that other strategies will build on. Two effective strategies to increase employee engagement are empowering workers to make a difference and determining how to provide recognition and positive reinforcement for workers.
To create the connection which engaged employees feel toward the company they work for, workers must feel they are able to make a significant difference in their immediate work environment. Often workers on the factory floor have valuable experience and intuition in their roles but have given up trying to share their ideas with management.
Recognition and Positive Reinforcement
For workers in more routinised roles, consider what elements can heighten each employee’s sense of accomplishment, such as frequent recognition and opportunities for personal development. Even the most self-reliant workers gain from positive reinforcement and engagement!
As a manager, think about aligning an employee’s individual goals and expectations with those of the organisation they work for.
This is why we need to get to know our people first! If we can do something with the 88% of employees in the construction, manufacturing, and production sector who don’t feel engaged at work, can we really afford to ignore the productivity gains from doing so?
*ViAGO International Limited specialises in helping businesses achieve more through education, training, and change projects. ViAGO works with their clients to ensure employees are a key part of the Productivity Journey.
 State of the Global Workplace Report (Gallup, 2017) www.gallup.com/workplace/238079/state-global-workplace-2017.aspx