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At the moment, manufacturing companies are dealing with many challenges such as labor shortages, skill gaps, high turnover rates, and more. To soften these blows as much as possible, employee engagement in the manufacturing industry becomes critical.

According to recent Gallup data, only 20% of employees globally are engaged at work. The percentage goes up to 36% for US employees. However, in both cases, these numbers can use a lot of improvement.

Here are the effects of engaged employees:

  • Better productivity
  • Fewer safety incidents
  • Lower absenteeism rates
  • Higher employee retention

So, let’s jump right in and see some practical ways to improve employee engagement in manufacturing.

1. Align company goals with employee goals

Maintenance or warehouse employees often don't experience the end product. This lack of emotional involvement can quickly result in disengagement.

You can fix this by explaining to your employees the bigger picture. They need to understand how their daily tasks fall into the big-picture goals of the company. How are they helping the organization? What’s their contribution?

Try to foster a sense of purpose by sharing the company's mission and values with your employees. Remind them of the impact that their work has on the company, the final product, the customers, and the broader community.

2. Create a safe work environment

This one is a no-brainer — make sure that your employees have the right tools, safety equipment, protocols, and protection mechanisms necessary to safely do their jobs.

Manufacturing jobs can be physically demanding. So, consider providing amenities such as break rooms, on-site healthcare, or ergonomic equipment.

Note that manufacturing is among the top in job-related injuries in the workplace, with an average of over 400,000 non-fatal injuries. Some common dangers are:

  • Slips, falls, and trips
  • Electrical dangers
  • Production machines
  • Heavyweight or powered industrial vehicles
  • Other environmental hazards

For example, consider an employee who works on a production line assembling small parts. If you don’t provide them with protective eyewear, they risk eye injuries if small debris or particles get into their eyes.

Another example is an employee who works with sharp tools or materials without wearing protective gloves. They're running the risk of injuries like cuts, abrasions, or worse.

These are just two examples of why safety equipment is important in manufacturing - it helps protect employees from potential injuries and enables them to work safely. Without this basic right, employee engagement will always be lacking.

3. Offer flexible work schedules

When we talk about a flexible work schedule, we often go in two directions — flexibility of location or work hours.

In the manufacturing industry, remote working often won’t be a possibility. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t offer other types of flexible schedules:

  • Flextime — flexibility in choosing work hours
  • Compressed workweek — working those 40 weekly hours divided differently from the standard 5-working day week/8 hour-days (for example, working 10-hour days from Monday to Thursday and then having Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off)
  • Part-time — working half the regular time (often needed in the case of shift workers, students, etc.)
  • Hybrid schedules — location-wise, working partly remotely, partly in-office

A large part of an employee’s satisfaction and work-life balance comes from regular breaks between shifts, paid time off, and consistency. Unfortunately, frequent overtime is common in manufacturing.

But, good employee scheduling software can automate and streamline scheduling, shift swapping, and last-minute replacements — avoiding unnecessary overtime.

4. Provide career development opportunities

According to a Glint and LinkedIn report, 97% of employees said that they would appreciate more learning opportunities and time for learning.

In manufacturing, there are many vertical and horizontal career growth opportunities. That’s because there are many processes, systems, and operations in place which can often be improved.

Some examples of career growth within a company are:

  • From production technician to production manager
  • From quality inspector to quality manager
  • From production worker to machine operator
  • From machine operator to supervisor

So, if your goal is to end up with a loyal maintenance workforce, offering career development and continuous learning opportunities should be at the top of your list of priorities.

Proof of this is the Japanese cosmetics giant Shiseido. They used LinkedIn Learning to empower employees and let them learn at their own pace — they managed to exceed their full-year activation rate targets by 1.5x!

5. Make employees feel valued and appreciated

Recognition and appreciation can come in different forms. Ideally, personalized according to the job role or the individual needs of the worker. For instance:

  • Monetary rewards (bonuses, salary raise, gift cards, etc.)
  • Public (or private, depending on the individual) verbal praise or a shout-out
  • Written recognition (for example, a hand-written note of appreciation)
  • Friendly contest awards (such as employee of the month)
  • Special perks or privileges for top performers
  • Other ways of recognition (free course vouchers, etc.)
A great example of how far a good rewards and recognition program can go in terms of engagement is ANCA — a leading CNC machine manufacturer. With the help of the Empuls platform, they automated and systemized rewards. As a result, they saw an incredible 100% boost in their engagement scores, and turned 80% of their employees into brand promoters.

Well-structured employee rewards and recognition programs will help you boost engagement, productivity, and most of all, retention.

Additionally, making employees feel valued will help you build a positive culture and reputation within the organization, which can attract top talent and build customer loyalty.

Overall, making manufacturing employees feel appreciated is an important way to support the success and growth of the company.

6. Establish two-way communication channels

Many manufacturing employees work on the factory floor and don’t have regular opportunities to interact with management or share their ideas. So, encourage open communication by:

  • Holding regular meetings with departments
  • Setting up suggestion boxes where employees can voice their thoughts and concerns

Effective communication in the workplace starts by being able to listen and showing empathy to your coworkers. That’s why it’s crucial to lead by example and show interest in your employees’ ideas and suggestions so that they aren’t afraid of voicing their concerns.

Another helpful way to improve communication is mobile and on-the-go solutions for communicating with frontline or remote workers. With tools like that, your deskless employees will stay in the loop and be informed of all important company updates.

Cargill is a great example of surpassing communication barriers with the help of technology. With workers across 70 countries worldwide, their workforce struggled with language barriers and effective two-way communication. They solved this by implementing a tool that provides inline translations and mobile communication on the go to ensure everyone is updated at all times.

7. Compensate your employees fairly

Fair compensation is the pillar of any business headed for long-term success, here’s why:

  • Helps you attract and retain top talent
  • Promotes values such as fairness and equality
  • Improves employee morale, engagement, motivation, and productivity
  • Builds loyalty and trust
  • Supports the financial well-being of employees.

Many factors go into fair compensation:

  • Establishing a clear and transparent pay structure with salary ranges defined for every job role
  • Following and complying with labor laws and regulations such as equal pay and minimum wage requirements
  • Conducting salary surveys to find the benchmark for your industry and adjust your salary offers accordingly
  • Regular compensation review (take into account the employee’s experience, contribution, market changes, or living cost escalation)
  • Clearly explaining bonus structures and extra pay
Let’s take Nike as an example — according to Nike employee reviews, the company offers perks like monthly and quarterly bonus pay, employee discounts, stock purchase plan options, and a fair and competitive base wage. Their 100% positive reviews prove they use compensation and benefit in a great way to engage workers.

8. Improve your onboarding process

Employee engagement should start at onboarding. Why? Because you cannot expect your employees to be engaged and productive if they don’t understand their tasks and what they’re doing in the first place.

A well-designed onboarding process helps new employees feel supported and valued. Here are some tips to help you improve your onboarding:

  • Provide the necessary technology and tools needed for the job
  • Provide access or entry badges
  • Create and provide account login data (usernames, passwords)
  • Give a welcome package (relevant training documents, role responsibilities, small corporate gifts, etc.)
  • Outline clear job role expectations, KPIs, and goals, and explain the process of evaluating performance
  • Assign a mentor or implement job shadowing as a way to help new employees acclimate to their new role and learn the ropes more quickly
  • Provide compliance and safety training
  • Offer ongoing training and development opportunities
  • Provide regular constructive feedback

To save time and automate onboarding, you can use software to create a type of self-service for new hires. In that way, they can access information at all times, which is an important practice for manufacturing jobs.

9. Use employee engagement tools

In the past, it was difficult to manually structure employee engagement programs and put them into practice. Luckily, today, you can streamline all your employee engagement efforts using technology and software. Tools like that give you a holistic approach since they contain everything that goes into a well-structured engagement program:

  • Employee communication
  • Rewards and recognition
  • Employee surveys
  • Data and employee analytics
  • Performance tracking

Luminous Power Technologies is an Indian company for home electrical solutions with seven manufacturing units and 28 sales offices in India. Their Rewards & Recognition (R&R) process was not standardized and lacked creativity and variety, leading to many employee requests for a better process.

So, Luminous decided to digitize their R&R program with Empuls since it integrates with the company's existing systems and offers a wide range of reward options.

The platform was well-received by the company's employees, particularly blue-collar workers who had not previously been exposed to such platforms. Implementing Empuls helped improve employee engagement and anchor the company's core values in the R&R process.

10. Ensure management and HR are approachable

The role of HR in employee engagement is undeniable, in manufacturing and every other industry. It starts from providing properly structured onboarding to resolving conflicts fairly and, of course, designing continuous career and development opportunities.

Instead of being cooped up in their office the whole day, HR teams should be available to employees and make an effort to visit the factory floor regularly. They should be approachable and willing to listen to employee concerns and ideas and act on critical feedback. This shows employees that their input is valued.

Furthermore, the role of the manager goes more than ensuring the job gets done. It’s about providing support and the right resources needed to successfully do the job. Here’s how management can boost employee engagement:

  • Improve soft skills and communication with training
  • Establish regular check-ins and 1:1 meetings with team leaders, shift managers, and other responsible manufacturing employees
  • Implement programs like coaching, mentoring, or job shadowing when appropriate
  • Regularly visit factory floors and interact with manufacturing employees

11. Create a culture of collaboration

Effective collaboration and teamwork are critical in the manufacturing industry. Many employees frequently handle complex projects or operate heavy machinery. To promote teamwork, companies should cultivate a culture of cooperation and provide opportunities for employees to collaborate and support one another.

Here are some practical ways you can use to promote collaboration across teams:

  • Lead by example and remain open to feedback and input from employees
  • Promote inclusivity and involve employees in the decision-making process
  • Provide the technology and tools that enable employees to communicate and work together remotely
  • Recognize and reward employees for their teamwork
  • Try cross-functional projects where different teams and departments have to work together
  • Implement team-building activities to foster a sense of friendship and togetherness
  • Encourage and celebrate employees who speak up and share ideas, even if they’re not always implemented
A great example of a manufacturing company that continuously fosters a sense of teamwork and connects employees through a greater purpose is Dow. This US manufacturing giant recognized the importance of social work and giving back to the community where you work and live.

So, they started an initiative where they give employees paid time off to volunteer and make an impact. With this move, they contribute to society and boost teamwork among their employees.

12. Equip employees with the necessary tools

Without the right tools, employees' productivity and engagement will suffer. This is especially true in the manufacturing industry where companies manage custom complex workflows and procedures. For manufacturing workers, documentation is crucial to do their job right.

Additionally, employees on the factory floor often have limited access to technology and devices on the job site. As a result, they’re often excluded from company news and are out of the loop, which is a huge cause for disengagement.

To avoid losing engagement, ensure that your employees have access to the right tools, such as:

  • Central documentation storage for training information, safety policies, processes, manuals, guidelines, and workflows
  • Tools for internal and external communication and collaboration
  • The right equipment or machinery needed for the job role
  • Mobile tools for real-time company-wide updates and on-the-go support.
On the subject of providing your employees with the conditions they need to perform better at work, a great example is KKR & Co.’s $1 million investment for improving the day-to-day workplace conditions in C.H.I. — a manufacturing plant they acquired earlier.

They literally asked employees what they should invest in to make their lives at work better. In the end, they installed an AC based on the employees’ wishes. This is a great example of listening to your employees and giving them what they really need.

13. Celebrate milestones and accomplishments

Celebrating accomplishments is a way to recognize and reward employees for their hard work and contributions, which can help improve morale and motivation. In return, this will improve retention since employees are less likely to leave an organization that values their achievements.

Milestones are another way to celebrate employees and create a positive culture in your organization.

Here are some ideas:

  • Send a company-wide shout-out email for a job well done or a successfully finished project
  • Celebrate work anniversaries and show appreciation for the employee’s loyalty
  • Write a card or a hand-written “thank you” note
  • Give a small gift or organize a get-together to celebrate an accomplishment or a work anniversary milestone.

14. Encourage health and wellness programs initiatives

Your employees’ work-life balance, as well as their physical and mental health, should be one of your top priorities. In an industry like manufacturing — where workers need to have razor-sharp focus — the health of employees becomes even more of a concern.

Health and wellness programs are a great way to ensure your workers remain healthy. For your company, healthy workers translate to increased productivity, increased retention, reduced absenteeism, and a better reputation.

Here are a few practical examples of programs you could implement:

  • On-site fitness classes or gym memberships
  • Regular health screenings to identify any potential concerns
  • Nutrition and healthy eating programs
  • Stress management and mindfulness programs
  • Access to counseling and other support services to manage stress and other mental health concerns.

15. Clearly define compensation terms and yearly hikes

Above, we mentioned that it’s important to compensate your employees fairly. So, as our last point, we’d like to add to that and talk about the importance of clearly defining the compensation terms in advance, along with the planned yearly salary hikes.

Here are some great practices:

  • Create a transparent compensation structure to make it clear how their salary is determined and what to expect in terms of salary increases
  • Clearly communicate the criteria or KPIs needed for a salary increase
  • Establish an annual performance review tied to a salary review
  • Explain other forms of compensation in a structured way (for example, bonuses, over-hours, and other benefits)

Key takeaways for skyrocketing employee engagement

Employee engagement in the manufacturing industry is critical to mitigate the impact of current challenges such as labor shortages, skill gaps, and high turnover rates. You can use 15 practical ways to improve employee engagement in manufacturing, starting with aligning company goals with employee goals. It is important that employees understand how they are helping the organization.

Creating a safe work environment is another important factor in improving employee engagement and it includes providing employees with the right tools, safety equipment, protocols, and protection mechanisms necessary to safely do their jobs, as well as amenities such as break rooms, on-site healthcare, or ergonomic equipment.

Finally, providing career development opportunities can also help employees to feel more invested in their careers and in the company. In the manufacturing industry, there are many vertical and horizontal career growth opportunities, and providing learning and development opportunities can improve employees’ skills.

In order to improve employee engagement in the manufacturing industry, it is important to adopt a holistic approach that addresses both the emotional and practical needs of employees. By aligning company goals with employee goals, creating a safe work environment, offering flexible work schedules, and providing career development opportunities, manufacturing companies can improve employee engagement and increase productivity, reduce safety incidents, lower absenteeism, and improve employee retention.

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