How to Manage and Engage Your Factory Workers

According to a new report by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, 1.4 million factory worker jobs have been eliminated, completely wiping out a decade of job growth in the manufacturing sector.

To keep up with demand, many factory workers have spent the last several months working under grueling conditions, making it no surprise that only 25 percent of manufacturing workers rate themselves as engaged at work—eight percent lower than the national average.

As a supervisor, you possess the pivotal responsibility of nurturing a positive work environment that inspires your team members to put their best foot forward. Engaged contributors are 44 percent more productive than their counterparts; this number rises to 125 percent when they feel inspired in their roles.

In short, the way you manage your team plays a large role in the employee experience, and the key to building a strong and highly motivated workforce is to offer the right accessibility, training, and communication. Here’s how to manage and engage your factory workers to set up your team for success.

Make Health & Safety A Bigger Focus

No matter the circumstances, health and safety need to come first. They should be a top priority, especially in the manufacturing industry, where over 13 million workforce members are at risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries.

Foster a culture of safety: Instead of simply discussing safety and health periodically or providing training on the subject, look for ways to improve the frequency of safety and health education and practices on an ongoing basis. Doing so can solidify a strong health and safety culture in your team. When team members believe they’re being cared for, it nurtures a positive work culture where people feel more confident in producing their best work. Consider also recognizing team members who go above and beyond to support a safe workplace.

Implement real-time safety coaching: One tangible way to make safety an ongoing priority is by observing safety practices and habits and dedicating a portion of your time to connecting with your team when you see those coachable moments. For example, if you see someone performing a task in a way that puts them at risk, step in and provide immediate, real-time feedback. Review safety errors and successes in your daily start-up meetings. You can also take this a step further by having high-performing team members take on coaching duties. This can foster stronger awareness and collaboration to further bolster the message of great safety among the team.

Provide health and safety updates: Be sure to send prompt notices when new health and safety procedures and notifications come up. This might be in the form of email or real-time mobile communication through apps. With the help of Beekeeper, a mobile app, ice cream manufacturer Wells Enterprises was able to share urgent safety information instantly and, more importantly, accurately send those messages in a team member’s native language. If your organization is not already using an employee-communication app, consider proposing this idea to the executive team.

factory workers looking at a laptop

Incorporate Training and Development Programs

According to Deloitte, roughly 2.6 million Baby Boomers in the manufacturing industry will retire within the next decade. This necessitates adequate training and development to fill those vacancies.

Here’s what you can do to spearhead your training and development initiatives:

Cross-train and rotate jobs. Doing so fosters learning and development among the team and offers team members the chance to try new roles. Supervisors should have one-on-one discussions with their employees throughout the cross-training process. Gain insights about their experience with a new role. Ask your team members what are they learning, what they like about the role, and what their ideas are for how this role could be different or better. This information can help you understand how you may want to shift your team’s structure in the future to sustain engagement and productivity.

Pair seasoned team members with those who are less experienced. For example, Kapco Metal Stamping allows older workers who are near retirement to switch to part-time schedules, allowing them to share their knowledge and mentor younger team members while also working less.
Neogen Corp., a food-safety product manufacturer, does something similar: the company pairs veteran team members with those likely to stick around for the long haul. As Julie Mann, senior corporate HR director at Neogen Corp. puts it, “Transferring knowledge before workers leave is a way ‘to learn not just what they do, but how they do it and why they do it.’”

Encourage Team Communication

Eighty-six percent of leaders and team members believe a lack of teamwork leads to project failures and team conflict. Team communication is key to building team commitment to a shared purpose.

Dedicated team communication also has these other important benefits:

Reduces risk in the workplace: Communication plays a vital role in preventing injury on the job. Clear communication can help team members know what to do and what not to do when handling equipment.

Fuels greater efficiency: For example, when a machine breaks down or materials run low, employees who practice team communication will address the relevant problem and proactively find alternative solutions together.

Enhances cohesion and engagement: As there are generally several steps involved in making a final product, team members need to talk to each other to avoid mistakes and rework (e.g., poor product quality, late deliveries, etc.)—errors that can be costly and dangerous.

As a leader, you can encourage team communication in the following ways:

Make time for communication: Lead your team by example. Set aside time to connect on a daily or weekly basis so team members can offer updates on projects, address any issues, and celebrate achievements.

Adapt to different communication styles: While some team members might be visual learners, others may learn better through hands-on activities. Take time to get to know your team’s learning and communication styles and accommodate them as best you can.

Keep things clear: Be straightforward and consistent. Contradictory information will only cause confusion and a lack of trust among team members. Keep everyone on the same page and ensure they have updates in writing. For example, if you inform your team about new machinery guidelines in person, be sure to send a follow-up email so they also have that information in a written form.

Gather Your Team Members’ Feedback

Take time to get thoughts, ideas, and experiences from your team members. Feedback is crucial in developing trusting relationships. High trust is the catalyst to team members who feel happier, valued, and more motivated. Not to mention, a healthy two-way feedback loop encourages bottom-up communication—something that many manufacturing companies lack. Upward feedback is essential to retention. Too often, companies lose team members because they feel unheard and lack trust in the leader and the company.

Gaining insight into the day-to-day challenges factory workers face can instill a sense of ownership and accountability among the team. This can help you be a better leader who consistently looks for ways to solve challenges and enhance team-member motivation.

Set up one-on-one discussions with team members to identify where and how things can be changed for the better. Here are a few topic items you can cover during your one-on-one discussions:

  • Individual roles: Do your team members find their jobs to be interesting and challenging? Do they believe their roles adhere to the safety and compliance regulations of the organization?
  • Team structure: Does the current team structure encourage collaboration? Does each team member understand how their roles affect others? Do they feel equipped to effectively collaborate on projects that merit using the skill sets and knowledge of the entire team?
  • Health and safety: Does your team feel safe conducting their tasks? Have they experienced or witnessed instances when team members operated under risky circumstances? What is effective or ineffective about the current system the company uses to update safety guidelines?
  • Overall company strategy: How does your team feel about the company’s direction? Are they aware of the overarching strategic goals of the organization and how their roles contribute to those objectives?

Engage in Professional Training for Supervisors

Taking on the responsibilities of a team leader can be daunting. Therefore, it’s essential to equip yourself with the right training to become a stronger supervisor and leader. Whether that’s honing your coaching strategies or finding unique ways to boost team morale, be sure to take the time to learn and grow as a leader.

Here are some leadership areas to review and get you started on identifying opportunities for personal development:

  • Coaching: Helping team members improve their performance
  • Strategy: Engaging in planning to support the strategic vision of the team and business
  • Teamwork: Identifying ways to support and reinforce collaboration among team members
  • Employee development: Helping workforce members pave a unique and fulfilling career path that encompasses ongoing learning and growth
  • Organizational effectiveness: Enhancing internal processes, behaviors, and culture at your company

Hone Your Supervisory Skills with CMOE

For further guidance on managing your factory workers, we suggest CMOE’s supervisory development and training programs. CMOE offers cost- and time-sensitive solutions to the issues and challenges encountered by supervisors on the job. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions.

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About the Author

CMOE Team

CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.