December 21, 2018

The 10 Secrets of Retaining Great Manufacturing Employees


With the economy booming and unemployment at record lows, talent management has become more critical for business success.

While many organizations offer huge sales commissions, signing bonuses, and nontraditional perks like flextime and ping-pong tables in Google-esque offices, these same incentives don’t necessarily work in a manufacturing setting. What can organizations in this sector do to keep their workforces happy and engaged for years to come?

Here are the 10 secrets of retaining great employees in manufacturing roles:

1. Pay Fair Wages

This may be a pretty basic idea, but it bears repeating. For many years, the economy was stagnant, and employers only needed to worry about slight inflation increases. As the economy improves and there is more competition for top performers, employers must now benchmark their wages regularly to ensure they are in line with the realities of compensation in today’s market.

2. Manage Expectations

Managing expectations starts with communication. Communicate to your employees exactly what their duties, deadlines, and deliverables are. This way, everyone will be focused on well-articulated, specific goals. Goals help people focus their energy, and when they know what to expect and what they’re working toward, their motivation grows stronger. Additionally, when employees achieve their goals, they feel highly satisfied. When it’s time to begin the next project, they will be eager to feel that same sense of satisfaction all over again.

3. Connect With Employees

It’s not all about the money! Today’s employees want to feel connected to their work, their coworkers, and their communities.

Your business is itself a community. People spend at least eight hours a day with their coworkers, and they want to feel a sense of camaraderie at work. You, as a leader, can build that camaraderie.

Try bonding with your employees in small ways. Some of the business greats were known to walk among the factory workers. They would ask about people’s lives, acknowledge what they were doing well, and express genuine interest in their contributions and who they were as human beings.

4. Maintain Order

When there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place, people feel a stronger sense of control. Within the manufacturing world, this sense of control is critical to safety, especially if more than one person is performing a given job across different shifts. Maintaining a sense of order and cleanliness within a manufacturing facility gives people more pride in their work environment, which in turn increases job satisfaction.

5. Cross-Train

In a manufacturing setting, it’s extremely valuable for multiple people to be knowledgeable about a given function. When you create functional redundancies, any employee will be able to step in and perform any given task as needed. This ensures there are no slowdowns simply because a worker is out sick or away on vacation.

Cross-training also helps people understand the full spectrum of the work that’s being done within the facility. When workers can see the big picture of the whole manufacturing process, they are more likely to feel engaged at work, because they understand the mission they are striving to fulfill.

6. Create a Climate of Respect and Appreciation

Everyone needs to feel that the contributions they make and the work they do matters. Acknowledge and reward your team for great work. This will increase motivation and build engagement, both of which are key to motivation.

7. Share the Wealth

If you are the owner of a manufacturing facility, you deserve to reap the rewards of the risk, effort, and ingenuity it took to start your business. However, those who have helped you achieve your success should also benefit.

Structure the company finances to benefit the individuals in your offices and on the plant floor when they help the company achieve its stretch goals. This will create a direct connection between company success and employee success, and employees will be more motivated to hit their targets.

When it comes to the timing of bonuses, it’s more valuable to offer them on a regular basis, such as monthly or biweekly. That way, employee motivation will stay level throughout the year. If you save bonuses for the end of the year, they will feel distant and intangible, making employees less eager to earn them.

8. Encourage Ethical Behavior

It is important to create a culture where hard work and camaraderie can coexist. If everyone knows that being honest, hard-working, and diligent is expected and rewarded, that is the sort of behavior you’ll see on the plant floor. If, on the other hand, backstabbing, cutting corners, and slacking off are never punished — or, worse, rewarded — then that is the behavior your employees will adopt.

9. Share the Vision

Everyone needs a “why.” When people understand why they do what they do at work, it infuses each task with more meaning, which creates more motivation. Help people understand the mission of your company and the vision for its growth. When they better understand how their role impacts the organizational mission, your employees will have a stronger reason to do their job.

10. Build Pride in the Work That Is Done

Show employees the results of the work they’ve been doing. If you are trying to improve certain individual metrics, help employees understand how they are doing against those metrics. Specific, measurable goals increase accountability and give employees a concrete goal to work toward.

Tracy Switzer is the founder and owner of Shelter Works.

Read more in Employee Engagement

Tracy Switzer is the founder and owner of Shelter Works, a company that manufactures custom-engineered fiberglass field equipment shelters for use in the natural gas, water, waste water, telecom, and other utility industries. Tracy is an advocate for creating a positive culture for the 25 employees of Shelter Works. This attitude has resulted in a median tenure 35 percent higher than the national average.