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5 effective ways to boost employee engagement in manufacturing

With skills shortages at historical highs, manufacturers can’t afford to ignore employee engagement's role in creating a satisfied and successful workforce.

‘Changes’ isn’t just a popular Bowie song from the 70s — it’s also what’s been affecting every single industry in recent years, and manufacturing is no exception. Not only have manufacturers had the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain and logistics issues, as well as macroeconomic uncertainty to deal with, but there is also a pressing urgency to both digitise and adapt to net-zero policies. 

If this wasn’t enough to cope with, the skills shortage in manufacturing is widening every year, as there simply aren’t enough young people with the right training to fill the gaps. The Manufacturing Institute conducted a study with Deloitte where they projected that the manufacturing skills gap in the US could result in 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030 (to the tune of $1 trillion in potential losses). 

The UK is in a similar boat, with the reality of a post-Brexit Britain adding further challenges. Around 36% of open manufacturing positions in the UK are difficult to fill, while the total number of vacancies is at a 20-year high for the industry. The Manufacturer’s Organisation estimates that the total cost of lost productivity due to skills shortages in manufacturing accounts for almost £8 billion in 2022 alone. 

While attracting new talent, upskilling current staff, and training the younger generation to become the future of manufacturing are ultimately what is required to solve this enormous shortfall, retention and current employee engagement have a significant role to play. Manufacturers simply can’t afford to lose any skilled workers in this difficult hiring climate. But how exactly is employee engagement looking in the industry? In this article, we’ll take you through how things are currently looking, but more importantly, how you can take action to improve your employee engagement and keep hold of your precious workers. 

The state of employee engagement in manufacturing 

Employee engagement refers to workers who are motivated, productive, and satisfied. In manufacturing, an industry with a high degree of frontline workers, global engagement levels are pretty dismal. Only 34% are reported to be engaged, while in the US, that figure is even lower, with only 25% of manufacturers engaged at work. With such significant shortfalls in skilled workers, having such a large proportion of employees feeling unmotivated is a costly problem to have. Disengaged employees cost the world $7.8 trillion, or roughly 11% of global GDP, according to Gallup. Ouch. 

For more statistics about employee engagement, check out this article.

Why is it important to improve employee engagement in manufacturing?

Enough with all the doom and gloom. Let’s focus on the positives. Improving employee engagement in manufacturing is vital because of the myriad benefits a motivated workforce can bring to your business. 

According to Manufacturing Digital, engaged employees in manufacturing are:

  • More productive: 70% more productive than non-engaged workers, even.
  • Safer: engaged employees boast a 78% higher safety record.
  • Less likely to leave: with a 70% lower employee turnover.
  • Resulting in happier customers: with 86% greater customer satisfaction.
  • Boosting profits: leading to 44% greater profitability. 

It’s worth focusing on that safety record statistic for a moment. Workplace accidents cost the EU 476 billion a year, according to figures from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. It’s not only crucial for the psychological and physical needs of your workers to ensure a safe environment, but it also saves your business money. 

Now, let’s zoom in on staff turnover. Feeling valued at work makes employees more than four times as likely to report high levels of work engagement, while simultaneously reducing their plans to leave the company imminently by 10%. Considering the bleak picture we painted about the growing skills shortages in manufacturing, this is nothing to be sniffed at. 

What’s causing poor employee engagement in manufacturing?

Perhaps you’re already on board with this idea of boosting employee motivation but feel a bit baffled as to why you’re still struggling with disengaged workers. Like you would with any customer, it’s essential to first understand your staff’s pain points before you can make any significant impact. 

First up, one of the biggest challenges impacting employee engagement in manufacturing is poor communication. Sometimes, this can be due to a lack of digitalisation leading to important updates or information not reaching workers, or feeling an overall lack of transparency around company goals and the purpose of their daily work. 61% of managers in the industry cite that using digital tools for communication improves productivity, so organisations with low digitalisation levels are most certainly losing out. 

Poor communication isn’t just impacting employee motivation, but it also has a significant impact on the bottom line. 67% of manufacturers have experienced higher production costs due to communication delays. Ultimately, feeling uninformed leads to feeling undervalued, so if you’re struggling with poor employee engagement, communication ought to be your first port of call. 

Next up, you’ve got the physically demanding and sometimes repetitive nature of tasks in the manufacturing industry. Performing hard or mundane tasks with little recognition is not a recipe for great motivation, especially if there appears to be a lack of professional development opportunities or career progression available. 

Lastly, like many frontline workers, employees in the manufacturing industry often receive little to no recognition or reward from upper management for their efforts. Linked to this, it’s rare for workers to hear customer success stories that they’ve contributed to or to feel that their daily work in any way impacts the wider business. 

All of these factors, and more, are causing poor employee engagement in manufacturing. Now, let’s look at some proven strategies for turning your worker motivation around.

How to improve employee engagement in manufacturing

You can’t fix something until you know it’s broken, so I can’t state empathetically enough that it’s vital you speak to your employees first and try to understand their unique challenges before launching any new initiatives. After all, the whole point is to improve your employees’ work experience. The following five suggestions are all incredibly effective methods of boosting employee engagement, but only when they address your workers’ main hurdles.

To figure out why your employees may be feeling disengaged, try anonymous feedback surveys as well as 1-1 interviews with trusted managers. Once you’ve gathered that intel, find which of the following engagement improvement ideas best suits your specific team.

Fix the communication issues

If your staff complain that they don’t receive relevant information in a timely manner, don’t understand how their work contributes to the wider business goals, or that they find it difficult to get in touch with colleagues from another team, you’ve got yourself a communication issue. 

For manufacturing industries where many staff are frontline workers who don’t have a specific desk or access to a computer, it’s vital to consider a digital communication tool. Not only do these tools address the issue of low digitalisation, but they also democratise information sharing by making all important updates accessible to every employee. 

Pick a tool with an instant messaging function, such as Flip, to enable networking among your staff. This facilitates easy exchange of ideas, but also opens up the opportunity to share personal updates, fostering a greater sense of belonging. When workers feel connected to their team and can reach anyone in the company, it increases engagement and overall satisfaction. 

Offer learning and development

When you approach your workers about their main challenges and hear ‘lack of career progression’, it’s time to get your learning and development programme in order. When a company is seen to actively care about the personal and professional growth of its employees, it feeds directly into motivation. 

Ensure there are plenty of opportunities for on-the-job training, such as learning new skills, machinery, or tools. This kills two birds with one stone, as upskilling current manufacturing staff so they are comfortable with the latest innovations in technology and AI, will also contribute towards your overall business success. 

Don’t forget about the importance of making clear career paths at your company available. It should be transparent with every individual in your team what needs to be done to be considered for a promotion or new role to offer equal opportunities to all. 

Launch a recognition programme

We’ve already covered the positive impacts that come from an employee feeling valued, and yet, this is an often neglected arena, particularly for frontline workers. Pinning a photo of the ‘employee of the month’ on the staff room noticeboard is no longer adequate. With employees spread across different working locations, recognition should be posted somewhere publicly for all staff to see. 

A great solution for this is an employee app or intranet, as all workers will get notified. What’s even better, the appreciation can come directly from leadership in this digital format, amplifying the importance of the message.  

If you have the resources to do so, consider tying recognition with some kind of reward. Not only will this help top-performing employees feel more valued, but an incentive will also encourage higher levels of motivation. 

Empower your frontline workers

If your staff feel that they have no autonomy to make decisions or an impact, then they are likely to feel disengaged. This can be easily rectified by establishing a frontline empowerment initiative. Think about what areas your workers could best contribute towards. Do they work closely with suppliers? Are they the ones most often in touch with customers? 

Think about the area of the business your employees interact with most as their area of expertise. Give your workers the power to make small decisions and offer suggestions for improvement in this field. They will feel a greater sense of engagement, and might even come up with ideas that greatly benefit your overall business. 

One important consideration is what method you’ll use for this. A digital tool is best to keep track of employee suggestions, as they can be easily standardised. More than anything, your workers need to see their ideas being taken seriously and implemented for this to have a positive impact on engagement. 

Flexibility and work-life balance

56% of manufacturers believe that flexible working is a key trend driving changes to jobs and skills between now and 2030. Whether your staff are majority frontline workers or not, employees now want a degree of flexibility at work. This can come in many forms, from more flexible hours to digital shift scheduling. 

Pay attention to the overall well-being of your workers. Manufacturing jobs can be very physically demanding, so appropriate care needs to be taken to create a safe working environment where breaks are encouraged. 

While introducing digital tools can help solve some of the issues leading to disengagement, without proper etiquette and governance, they can also encourage workaholism as your employees have increased access to work information. Be sure to pick a solution which mutes notifications outside of working hours, and ensure that leadership sets a good example by only sending updates at appropriate times. 

Examples of employee engagement in manufacturing

EUROPART: taking internal communication to the next level

EUROPART, a leading partner for commercial vehicle workshops and operators of lorry, trailer, van and bus fleets across Europe, started using Flip’s employee app in early 2021. With 1,700 employees, they wanted to improve both internal communication and innovation at the company. Now, employees can submit ideas for improvement, which increases their overall autonomy and engagement. Since launching the app, 75% of employees report being very happy with their employer and state that app-based communication is a main contributing factor. 

Without an employee app

  • Inter-departmental communication across all locations took too long 
  • The entire logistics department only received its information through bulletin boards 
  • Hard to create a feeling of togetherness 

With an employee app

  • Messages can be sent to all employees quickly and easily 
  • Impressive amount of constructive feedback from the workforce 
  • Significant improvement in the feeling of togetherness 
Olaf Giessen holding a smartphone in a Europart store

We receive so much constructive feedback that we could hire a full-time employee just for sorting through and processing it all."

Olaf Giesen

CEO Europart

Bauder: connecting all employees

Paul Bauder GmbH & Co. KG, a roofing product manufacturer, has been using the Flip employee app since autumn 2020. Before that, it was impossible to reach all staff equally and simultaneously. With the app, management can now communicate and interact digitally with all employees, both in the office and on the productive floor. Staff can share pictures and updates, as well as ideas and suggestions for improvement. 

Without an employee app

  • Unsatisfactory communication with employee
  • Production employees only received updates via noticeboards and the quarterly printed company magazine
  • Information imbalance: office employees were always better informed

With an employee app

  • After a short time, almost 90% of all employees are already using the app
  • Amazing interaction on the posts & exchange across sites
  • The same level of information between production and office employees
Mark Bauder in suit smiling

Through our employee app, we create an equal level of information between production and office employees. Previously, we could only reach our production employees via paper notices and the company magazine."

Mark Bauder

Managing Director Production Bauder

Conclusion: digitalisation and employee engagement in manufacturing go hand in hand

The digital revolution has been slow to take hold in certain industries, manufacturing included. However, it’s no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a real imperative for staying competitive in the market, and attracting top talent. The younger generation coming through training and apprenticeships will all be digitally native, and they’ll seek a workplace that offers the best digital experience. By introducing digital tools for boosting employee engagement, you’ll also help to increase staff retention, as well as make your business more attractive for the future workforce.

Is your manufacturing business suffering from poor communication? Speak to our team today to learn how an employee app can help connect your team, democratise information sharing, and increase employee engagement.

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